Agri-mining is a specific method of underground agriculture which involves a close degree of cooperation between mineral extraction firms and agricultural firms. In short, an agri-mine is an underground mining site which, over time and in parallel with mining efforts, is refurbished for use in greenhouse- or hydroponics-based mass production of food and purified water.
DevelopmentBecause the unique geometries of the Manifold Sky setting make the struggle for space and resources a constant fact of life, civilizations are forced to become increasingly more clever with land use to keep their burgeoning populations fed. The antecedents of agri-mining techniques were terrace farming (used to convert cube edge and vertex mountains into arrable terrain) and remote irrigation techniques. Before the steamtech age, open pit mines and quarries could sometimes be converted into massive terraced farms via the application of fertilizer and topsoil, but these were limited to surface operations. Greenhouses were common before this era, but the ability to produce large expanses of uniform glass allowed some smaller pit mines to be covered over for more control over growing conditions within them, creating the first rudimentary agi-mines.
Expanding knowledge of chemistry during the golden age of steamtech brought about the industrial-scale synthesis of fertilizer and fuel products, both useful in the mechanization of farming techniques. Electrical power generators could be paired with bright electric lighting (or complex arrays of solar reflectors and lenses) to force plants to grow at ever-increasing depths. Hydroponics was invented in the 9800s in several places in the Manifold at once. With the dawn of dieseltech, granting industrialists the use of Dieseltech Computer - and, later, autonets - hydroponics operations became increasingly simple to manage. With rumblings of the War of Reunification on the horizon, many nations began to move their mass production farms entirely into underground complexes by the late 9800's. This would provide protection from aerial bombardment and would allow for agri-mines extending as deep as the micro-gravity region of a cube's crust.
Agri-mines are typically built in vertical tiers as the mines in which they are situated are deepened. Should a mine's principal ore play out before a sufficiently large agri-mine has been produced, the less valuable rock in the site is extracted. Because recycling is such a big deal in the Manifold, none of this rock will be wasted; indeed, many modern surface architectural choices are made based on the availability of rock quarried out of deep mines in this manner. Such mine tailings are sometimes sent for secondary processing to extract useful chemicals (i.e. mercury for pressure sensor and topical antiseptic production) or pigments. Agri-mines come in several forms, from stacked, rectangular warehouses in box-truss mines to cylindrical stacks of mezzanines in what were once conical pit mines. The most important consideration in agri-mining is getting necessities (light, air, water, and nutrients) to the plants. An agri-mine originally constructed with a surface opening (especially former quarries) will often employ a large, lense-like skylight and a central tower of solar reflectors to redirect daylight into the tiers as a supplement to artificial light. Hydroponics are increasingly used in lieu of simple furrowed soil beds for the purpose of agri-mining, as this allows growing conditions to be more carefully fine-tuned by the agri-mine operators.
The Eudoxia Chemical Group has developed aquaculture variants of agri-mining, supplying near-bottomless reserves of edible seaweed to the Rostran Archipelago Confederacy. Finally, the Commonwealth of C has the most advanced automation with regard to agri-mining techniques, as Data Engines Limited leverages their knowledge of dieseltech computing and autonets to create facilities which require a surprisingly low number of actual human beings to operate.
Almost every faction which employs agri-mining adds its own unique twist to the technique. For example, the Manifold Conservation Society has perfected agri-mining architecture, as the majority of their polity lives underground at all times. In recent years, the Ghostleaf Foundation has become the premier supplier of agri-mine fertilizer, pesticides, and supplements; using Vale Verdial experience with tending mycelia and other Distal-associated life forms, the Foundation is at the cutting-edge of exotic agri-mining. Some Free Faces League agri-mines are only underground in the academic sense, as they often build up within the bulk of their local mesas to put the access points near their mesa-top ranches and traditional farmsteads. Voxelia, ever hungry for honey and related products, often design their agri-mines with 'embedded' apiaries.