With Biomimicry, Designers Turn to Nature to Reimagine Our Food System

November 14, 2015 by

Jube_biomimicry_design_beekeeping_urbangardenswebJube, a chamber for capturing insects which its designers predict will be the “food of the future.” 

The common earthworm, termite mounds, and even the Texas Horned Lizard share something in common: they have all inspired innovative design concepts for reimagining the future of our ailing food system.

Polli-SnakPolli Snak was not a finalist, however I love the idea and the expandable packaging. 

From devices that restore soil health to a bio-inspired chamber for capturing edible insects, designers are turning to our natural world for inspiration in conceptualizing some of the coolest, cutting edge solutions for changing how we think about our food.

LivingFiltration_biomimicry_designs_urbangardenswebDrawing inspiration from the earthworm, a student team from University of Oregon captured the first prize for their Living Filtration System, above.

The annual Biomimicry Global Design Challenge addresses critical sustainability issues seeking “biomimetic,” solutions–concepts which draw inspiration from nature. This year’s competition focused on food system innovation–solutions for food and agriculture issues like waste, packaging, agricultural pest management, food distribution, and energy use.

Balcony_Cultivator_biomimicry_designs_urbangardenswebThe Balcony Cultivator draws inspiration from the Texas Horned Lizard’s method of collecting water.

Thousands of designers, architects, biologists, engineers, students, nature-lovers, and expansive thinkers from over 70 countries responded with biomimetic design concepts conceived to bring about change in our current food system.

Hexagro-Groundless-farming-System-biomimicry_designs_urbangardenswebFrom Milan, finalist Hexagro, a modular aeroponic urban farming system.

Hosted by The Biomimicry Institute and the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, the challenge posed the question “how are we going to create a healthier, more equitable, truly regenerative food system without learning from the natural ecosystems and organisms that are an inextricable part of it?”


Eight finalists were announced at an awards ceremony on October 4, 2015 at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, TX.

A_Growing_City-biomimicry_urbangarenswebAlthough not a finalist, I really liked the Growing City concept and design schematic.

Among the innovative ideas were two new methods for growing food in small spaces, a device to restore soil and help new seedlings grow, a method of capturing edible insects, a system for maintaining soil nutrients, a water desalination device, a peer-to-peer networking app, and an aquaponics system designed to help subsistence farmers.

Mangrove-desalination_biomimicry_designs_urbangardenswebFinalist, The Mangrove Still, aims to remediate soil and improve farming conditions.

There were many promising submissions, but judges narrowed the entries to eight finalist teams who will join the first-ever biomimicry accelerator focused on food system innovation. In an intensive program over the next nine months, the teams will prototype their designs working with business, food industry, and biomimicry experts. In 2016, one of the teams will receive the Ray C. Anderson Foundation’s $100,000 “Ray of Hope” prize to bring their design to market.

flying-fish-raftAlso not a finalist, the aerodynamic Flying Fish Raft sparked my interest.

A team of students from the University of Oregon received the first prize for their Living Filtration System, a concept for assisting farmers in maintaining soil nutrients. Inspired by the earthworm’s digestive system, the design decreases the amount of fertilizer needed while improving soil health over time.

The second prize went to a team from Thailand for Jube, a bio-inspired chamber for capturing protein-rich edible insects. I have eaten fried grasshoppers and with the accompanying sauce, they weren’t bad but not sure I could make it a staple…

A Chilean team captured third prize for BioNurse, a design which restores degraded soils and protects growing seedlings.


As Steve Jobs said, “I think the biggest innovations of the 21st century will be at the intersection of biology and technology. A new era is beginning.”

Visit AskNature, The Biomimicry Institute’s curated online library which offers free information on over 1,800 natural phenomena and hundreds of bio-inspired applications.

Thoughts? We’d love to hear them. Comment below on how you think we can emulate nature to design a more sustainable world.

Images via The Biomimicry Institute.



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