What Will We Do When AI Comes for Our Jobs? Future Careers and Better Living with Gardening

What Will We Do When AI Comes for Our Jobs? Future Careers and Better Living with Gardening

In the roiling and exciting landscape of an Artificial Intelligence (AI) age, the promise of freeing ourselves from certain tasks was thought to feel both amorphous and impending; yet it's exciting because AI increases our capacity to create more. But a crucial question still remains ambiguous: With newfound free time, what work do we want to pursue? How can we enrich our quality of life? And how do we maximize human and nature's health with the profound invention of functioning AI? And I ask these questions feeling that perhaps AI will not necessarily displace us from work, but rather, help expand the potentials of work and what it means.

I think there are a few areas that need to be seriously explored in this shifting technical landscape and could be viable, profitable career paths that deal with growing and tending to nature and human well being. In the past we could not take these career paths very seriously because they were not profitable, but I think now we can start to see potentials for what we could do with ourselves when we have more time freed-up by AI and want to live a full, healthy, balanced and rewarding life in alignment with caring for the natural world.

This blog post endeavors to outline why we might want to move fast to careers that foster key elements found in Blue Zone research about living a beautiful and long life and tending to nature to sustain our future. I want to propose a future where careers align with what we have learned in that research, innovate from our small family farming past, and propose simple yet profound aspects of sustainability. Why? Because I want to be astounded by what we can do now and not worried. I want to think about and build technology that addressing sustainability in our GDP and careers in nature, and improve our health outcomes. I want to think about what we can do to reach the potential not yet seen in history for well-being. Most of all I want the shift to be something exciting and inclusive. And, I think, there is no reason not to use AI and LLMs to help accomplish these goals. I think now is the moment to really talk about it and not be frightened by how machines will overtake us, but rather harness our ingenuity to profit in a manner that is viable, balanced, and different than the past. Wouldn't it be something to feel as though we are guiding our futures? I have some ideas how and I am just going to put them out there because I do not know if they will work, but I am so willing to imagine they might.

First, Quality of Life, Work, Where We Live

As AI advances, contemplating careers in gardening or small-scale farming in every city might seem unusual, yet it holds potential for widespread food production and sustainable living, reshaping urban areas into well-being centers and impacting our GDP in a stable and sustainable manner.

But first, let me just show you a few threads of research where I am looking and reading to start thinking about a future set of career paths based on human well-being and nature. Inspired by "blue zone" research, where the populations of certain location were found to live longer and healthier lives, certain commonalities like daily outdoor exercise, community interaction, shared activities, and nature engagement for food production were found. Considering this research as a starting point for thinking about what kind of work we might want to do in the future, Blue Zone studies tell us that cities with more walkways and community events centered around food and nature experiences increase longevity and improve mental health. This not only makes economic sense but also impacts individuals in terms of food production and sustainable community development. Could future careers align more with physical, natural, and mental well-being? Additionally, UN Environment Programme research suggests that 20 million new jobs could be created by harnessing human-nature interaction sustainably.

A few examples of cities that have already started thinking about these concepts and implementing them are:

  1. Albert Lea, MN
    Based on findings from Dan Buettner (2004), National Geographic, the National Institute on Aging, and the world's best longevity researchers for "Blue Zone" or identified pockets around the world where people lived measurably better, longer an experiment was created in Albert Lea, MN. The town created more walkways and main street activities, encouraged it's citizens to interact more and eat unprocessed foods and share meals. After just one year, participants added nearly 2.9 years to their average lifespan. In addition to increased economic vitality, savings in medical costs and productivity loss, and improved health outcomes in Albert Lea, Freeborn County jumped up 34 places in the Minnesota County Health Rankings.

  2. Copenhagen, Denmark:
    Copenhagen has implemented policies to promote cycling, green spaces, and community engagement. The city's commitment to renewable energy and environmental initiatives could serve as an example.

  3. Singapore:
    Singapore has been actively working towards becoming a "City in a Garden." The city-state has green initiatives, vertical gardens, and community programs that promote sustainable living. It showcases how urban areas can integrate nature into their infrastructure.

  4. Bristol, United Kingdom:
    Bristol has been recognized for its commitment to community well-being. Initiatives like the "Happy City" project focus on holistic well-being, including mental health. The city's approach to combining economic prosperity with happiness and sustainability might provide insights.

Why not consider embracing these opportunities? Initiating the creation of jobs and establishing an economic framework for individuals to pursue the implementation of fundamental principles that promote better health, longevity, and the mindful balance of sustainable natural environments seems imperative. If the solution lies in uncomplicated daily routines for well-being, such as strolling through urban landscapes, engaging with communities, and maintaining a nutritious garden-based diet, the question becomes: How can we extend these benefits to everyone who wishes to partake? These straightforward tasks form the basis of a rewarding existence, underscoring the significance of tending to nature for both mental and physical well-being. The transformation of cities by incorporating these elements is pivotal for fostering longevity, enhancing quality of life, and nurturing a healthy natural world. This approach enables individuals to actively contribute to and witness the flourishing of future generations. I think the answer is that until now allocating time and resources and finding a profitable path to the creation of these types of careers has not yet been viable.

 Next, Individuals

The previous paragraphs explored ideas related to cities and towns, but we can also consider this new set of careers on an individual level. The idea of reclaiming our time to work more in nature could lead to a shift in enhancing our needs as humans, particularly physically and undoubtedly psychologically well-being.

Maslows Heirarchy of NeedsIn Maslow's hierarchy of needs, once many basic needs are fulfilled, individuals often shift their focus to eating well, engaging in physical activity, enhancing mental acuity, and participating in beneficial community involvement with the goal of continuous improvement in personal and preferred tasks or being the most they can be to contribute to society and family. Considering this as a model to pursue in the current historical moment and making it accessible to many seems worthwhile. To emphasize its importance, the door might be opening for every individual to partake in this type of progression.

Next, The Past.

Consider this: Americas economy was fundamentally an agrarian economy from the start. It then transitioned to an Industrial and Services economy, and now is somewhat a mix of each of these. We would not need to re-tool the entire economy to begin basing a larger portion of our GDP on agrarian activities. However, in the 1980s in America we lost 30-40% of our small family farms. This then meant many of the small towns were affected and banks, dairies, grain processing and jobs were lost. Small towns never really recovered and a type of blight set in for most existing small farms where they became bankrupt or simply fell into ruin. By the 90s small farms in America were in dire need of support but could not compete nor could their children remain in the small towns because of lack of opportunity. From the Iowa PBS series about the Farm Crisis in America: "The Farm Crisis of the 1980s accelerated a long established trend of farmers leaving the land and farms being consolidated. In 1935 the number of farms in the U.S. reached an all-time high of 6.8 million. By 1990 there were only 2.1 million farms."

The average age of farmers in the United States is also at a crisis point where most are 60 year's old or older. Where do we think the quality and quantity of our food will come from in the future? Why do we not think that this is a crisis so profound that it currently impacts our health, our future, and even nature? Perhaps we all already know but feel quite helpless as there is no way to survive or sustain a family on a small farm? Yet the price we pay in the future is almost insurmountable when we consider the benefits now of spending time in nature for physical and mental health, growing food and community and small towns, and simply having time to appreciate the ebb and flow of a flower growing.

Transitioning into Future Careers: And even in knowing what we have experienced in our agricultural landscape, I am not proposing that we seek to recreate farms of the past but create the potential for a patchwork of every type of conceivable and sustainable type of garden, in cities and rural communities. That we begin to share and create public nature datasets while still being profitable along the way so we can sustain these gardens and improve our natural environment in a healthy manner. This then begins to foster the growth of high-quality food, supply endless amounts of physical activity, and allow a type of community based on healthy and socio-technical-nature interaction we have never known in human history. And though that seems rather large to say, I think it might be an interesting path to consider for a labor market as most people would then average hours of their day working outdoors and in their communities.

Let's Go with the Flow as it's Already Starting

Examining data on our GDP, sustainability, and the gig economy reveals that current trends are already guiding us towards a labor reinvention (World Bank Report, Year; McKinsey & Company Study, Year). Ok, so let's reinvent meaningfully with goals that benefit our lives. Envision with me, for a moment, a future where working with nature—gardening, nature, cultivating food, and fostering community connections—isn't just a personal choice made in off-hours but a viable, rewarding career path. In a report by the World Economic Forum they found that Green entrepreneurship is growing faster than overall entrepreneurship, says LinkedIn’s Global Green Skills Report 2022. Overall, job postings requiring green skills have grown by 8% annually over the past five years, it adds. But the share of green talent has only grown by roughly 6% each year, meaning there is a skills gap that needs to be closed.

And there is some precedent to think about this if we compare it to the growth in the "gig" economy for our GDP. Today, the "side hustle" economy is representing a portion of our GDP. In 2023, the projected gross volume of the gig economy (not including the side hustle economy) is expected to reach 455.2 billion U.S. dollars (Statistica Economic Research Report, 2023). The side hustle economy is reported to have reached 2.58 trillion dollars of the GDP in 2023 (Market Research). Combined that would mean nearly $3 trillion of our GDP is already part of a gig|side hustle economy. And if this trend continues, perhaps we can start to think about what we would want the new economy to be. And not to be upsetting to any person, but the World Economic Forum Survey of the Future of Jobs for 2024 states: Employers estimate that 44% of workers’ skills will be disrupted in the next five years. Should we think about disruption or creation? I prefer creation.

Why would we need to work more than 30 hours a week in the future if AI is able to do certain tasks and we are able to pursue highly impactful and meaningfully positive tasks for our future health and sustainability?

Flowing with the momentum is important and it appears as though the next generations have already started moving into new types of work.

  • 34% or one in three Americans have a side gig (Zapier) 
  • Side hustlers who dedicate 12 hours per week to their business earn a median of $1,122 per month (Bankrate)
  • Almost 50% of people with a side hustle do it because they want to, not because of financial constraints
  • At the same time, one-third run a side-hustle because they need to supplement their income
  • 50% of millennials have a side hustle (Experian)
  • 70% of Gen Zs have a side hustle (Airtasker)
  • The U.S. side hustle market is valued at over $2.58 trillion (Market Research)
  • 83% of Americans will perform gig work by 2027 (Market Research)
  • Three-quarters of people love their side hustle (The Hustle)
  • 81% of 6-figure business owners started it as a side hustle. (LuisaZhou.com)

So why not think about inventing a new type of economy based on healthy living and nature if we now have more free time? Trends, my friends, momentum and trends are already there and we might just need to flow with the trend and invent on the wave what we want it to be.

I think often that the most I have learned from gardening is that it is an endlessly fascinating task with many rewards that can be shared and consistently impactful to physical and mental health of self and community. Why would we not amplify this if we could? If we have more free time, and there is a pathway to make enough money doing so, and if we could learn how to share and feed each other, why would we not? Why would it not be a highly viable career path that allows for both individual and GDP profit? Thousands of individuals graduate with Agricultural degrees each year; hundreds graduate with Botany degree, and even more graduate with Landscape Architecture degrees, and in this, we already have experts that can help us if we need them. Why not find a way to create even more careers in this so that in a few year's time from now I can write a blog post that there are over a million market gardens created in big and small towns across the United States. That both locally and regionally different food and communities start to specialize in different types of events and garden architecture, and scientist set about to measure and understand more fully the affect it has on nature and our well-being while all along people start to make a profitable living engaging in these activities. And back to the fears of AI taking our jobs: Using AI to help create this, I think, can happen. It is a synthesis that opens doors to careers that not only embrace our natural inclinations but also contribute to the well-being of ourselves and the planet.

In essence, the journey towards an elevated quality of life in the age of AI is not merely about adapting to technological advancements but re-imagining the very fabric of our existence. It calls for a deliberate and conscious choice to leverage AI not as a replacement for human experience but as a catalyst for a more purposeful, fulfilling, and interconnected life.

Staggering Numbers for a Curated, Sustainable, Artisan Garden Market
And if we want to get even more specific and not think of the overall potential to health and well-being for gardeners and small farms if enabled well, here are a few staggering numbers about the growth of just the flower market. These numbers do not include plants, seeds, implements for gardening and farming, nor even food products. If we start to look across any of the areas that could be supported by a vast and intertwining set of gardens and small farms enabled by a marketplace we start to see a projected growth averaging about 4-5% CAGR for the next 3 - 4 years. I think these are very conservative estimates because they are based on pockets of production and distribution. It is unknown what the estimate could be if we started to understand what could be grown and consumed in many local and global markets.

Flower Market
The global cut flowers market is estimated to be valued at USD 36.4 billion in 2022. It is projected to reach USD 45.5 billion by 2027, recording a CAGR of 4.6% during the forecast period. The focus of growth in this area is on artisan, sustainable and curated flowers.

Fresh Vegetable Market
Revenue in the Fresh Vegetables market amounts to US$62.72bn in 2024. The market is expected to grow annually by 5.66% (CAGR 2024-2028).

And what about people who want to make products?
The global cheese market was valued at over 83.4 billion U.S. dollars in 2022 and is forecast to reach over 120.2 billion by 2028.

Ok, so there is that, what's next?
Key activities I'm thinking about include establishing an economically viable way for individuals to earn income through daily interactions with nature, sharing and growing food, plants, and seeds in a marketplace. However, to start, I can most envision a different approach by making a marketplace where each person has access to the tools they need and reduce friction in being a shopkeeper so they can focus on growing a garden. They need to earn a profitable income while gardening and tending to nature. I think there are other people out there who might have other solutions, but for me, it is what I can do now and what I can think of to start.

For the last year I ran an experiment to sell seeds as a side hustle on a marketplace just to see if there is any profit in doing this. I specialized in heirloom seeds that could be grown in my small urban farm and did not have a seed sorting machine (which would have increased inventory rapidly), nor did I have any special equipment for the urban farm. I tore up the lawn and regenerated the soil and grew the heirlooms. Within a year it has become profitable enough to pay the mortgage this month.

About the Nature Data?
Why wouldn't parts of it be publically available as an aggregated barometer for any person so they can plan and plant and share? Portions of it should be as long as peoples privacy is protected and ethical guidelines are set. If the datasets become available people will then understand the opportunities in their local areas to improve and grow with nature. It could reshape how we live and allow each of us to interact with nature in a non-threatening, but very rewarding manner that improves quality of life and creates an endless fascination and different jobs in how we interact with nature.

Did I Make a Profit in the Experiment?
I think it is really funny in a quirk of how we measure things, the experiment for the year yielded it is almost 4000% growth in the business (and I closed the shop for a few months). And upon doing research, other sellers of plants and seeds bring in enough income to pay for their housing consistently. Yet, the process was painful and riddled with both usability and technological foibles, not to mention a lack of support in even starting a small business. I think it could be improved and the spectrum of what could be offered on a marketplace could also include promoting a type of quality of living in starting small businesses and all the tools needed to be highly productive in a marketplace to start.

I think, for me, I am going to start making a marketplace that is built from the ground up with Ai that can help individuals envision their natural and urban spaces for what can be grown, how it could be grown, the types of products that can be created, and then enable them more quickly and easily to do so. Certifications could take place and education from the thousands of students who will graduate with Ag, Landscape Architecture and Botany degrees this year alone. The features are almost endless when we start to consider what we do not know about enabling these types of careers.

Why do I find this path highly viable and logical? I want to envision a future that is endlessly fascinating as an interaction between nature, technology and being fully human, not marred by needless health impacts and sadness. If we enable it well perhaps we can find a way to ensure we trend more in the direction of frolicking with butterflies and friends while walking about.


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