The Reinvention of Fermentation: Exploring Organic, Inorganic and Social Concepts and Processes

Today already more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas and according to recent United Nations data, the portion is expected to increase to about 70% by 2050.

Urbanization, combined with the overall growth of the world’s population, with close to 90% of this increase taking place in Asia and Africa, will put future cities under enormous population pressure. Urban areas of the future will be huge and hotspots of the consume of natural resources, the production of all kinds of waste and the emission of greenhouse gases and air pollutants. As the world continues to urbanize, sustainable development depends increasingly on the successful management of urban growth. Many countries will face challenges in meeting the needs of their growing urban populations. 

Ferment the Cities!

Different initiatives exist to prepare for future challenges and make our cities more sustainable. Two examples are the Transition Town movement, with the vision of a move towards self-sufficiency at the local level, in food, energy and much else, and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s concept of Circular Economy in cities, which recognizes urban areas as “major engines for economic growth”, where circular economy principles need to be embedded to build thriving, livable, and resilient cities.

Without a doubt, the future of our cities lies in the hands of its citizens and we have to come up with new social, economical and ecological models. Concepts such as the Civic Circularity aim to embed the Circular Economy principles into a collective transition to develop a holistic, inclusive and sustainable circular economy model.

Ferment the City wants to foster change by exploring fermentation as a way to transform wastes into resources and rethink urban living.

Ferment the City! logo

The initiative conducts research on fermentation through a variety of experiments and activities, builds bridges to people in different fields to see how the concept of fermentation is transferable and applicable to other processes and connects people to build a lively community to ferment together.
Nothing less than the reinvention and redesign of the common concept of organic fermentation extended by the two new dimensions of inorganic and social fermentation.

What is fermentation?

The origin of fermentation comes from nature and is biological and – as Sandor Katz, the author of the book “The Art of Fermentation”, describes it – is the “transformative action of microorganisms”.

According to Katz biological processes of fermentation and fermented foods are natural phenomena, not human inventions, that people observed and then learned how to cultivate.
The phenomena of organic fermentation is transferable and applicable to many forms of transformation, change or development, that are actively induced by all forms of organisms.

Organic Fermentation:

“by organisms induced action of transformation of organic resources”
e.g. microbial fermentation of “organic” resources, such as vegetables and fruits

Inorganic Fermentation:

“by organisms induced action of transformation of inorganic resources”
e.g. human fermentation of “inorganic” resources, such as timber, metal and plastic, where we humans can act as ferment and induce the fermentation or “upcycling”, as the “process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality and environmental value”.

We can distinguish between “organic” and “inorganic” fermentation, based to the substance that undergoes fermentation.

The magic of (social) fermentation

Fermentation processes are driven by a so called ferments, any of a group of living organisms, fermenting agents, which in the case of biological fermentation are yeasts, molds and certain bacteria, that cause fermentation through enzymes.

Fermentation can not only be induced by microorganisms, but also by organisms of all scales, micro, meso and macro.

Humans and whole communities as ferments, “a human induced transformation” or “the transformative action of humans”.

What all types of fermentation have in common, is that they are not carried out by individual organisms, but generally by communities of organism. Thus, the state of a process induced and developed by organisms, is always a social process.

The whole process of fermentation often involves both, humans and microbes, and furthermore, brings people in connection with each other, with microorganisms and with nature. Thus, fermentation reconnects us with nature and our environment.

Fermentation is impacted by a wide range of parameters, including physical, chemical and physicochemical parameters which impact the growth of microorganisms, but also economical, social and environmental parameters that include the people involved in the process.

With a focus on humans, thus people and communities, the term “social fermentation”, can be defined as „a state in which a group of people catalyses change and development; the state of social, collective agitation, change, transformation and transition; the transformative action of a group of motivated, excited and dedicated people“.

As Katz says it: “Fermentation as engine for social change and all of us are starter cultures”. Therefore, fermentation is the basis and solution for social and environmental change. Fermentation is transformation!

By Stefan Simon for Collective Green