Imagine a hydroponic vegetable farm
right there on your grocery store aisle.
As climate change increasingly threatens America’s agricultural regions with unpredictable drought, high temperatures, and floods, having access to reliable and affordable local food production can increase your food security. One way farmers have been able to adapt to a shifting climates is by bringing their operation indoors and eliminating the need for soil by means of 1) hydroponics – growing crops inside soilless greenhouses in trays of nutrient solution; 2) aquaponics – crops grown from nutrient-rich water that serves as a fish farm; or 3) aeroponics – crops grown from a nutrient-rich mist.
We previously discussed starting a hydroponic system of your own and how you may be able to acquire the tools and skills needed. Although creating a hydrofarm in your home may be attractive, many of us are unable to do so because of living arrangements or a lack of funds or time. But that doesn’t mean we can’t turn to our local food market to provide a climate-proof food supply. After all, grocery stores are usually driven by consumer demand.
Why should we encourage hydroponics?
Besides avoiding the changing climate outside, an indoor hydroponics farm has many environmental advantages, such as eliminating food transportation, storage, and refrigeration – all of which result in massive inventory loss. Only a tiny fraction of water or fertilizer used on a farm is used in a hydrofarm. And the use of soil is all but eliminated.
“You can integrate into pretty much any infrastructure,” says Guy Galonska, cofounder of Infarm, an organization spearheading the urban farming revolution in Europe. Infarm launched an experimental hydroponics setup in the Metro supermarket in Berlin. “So you don’t need to do any reinforcement to the building and special modification. You just come in, you install it. [After a week] you’re up and running.”
Economic value of a climate-proof food supply
Maintaining a hydroponic farm would create jobs and save money for the consumer, according to a paper published last year in the Agronomy for Sustainable Development journal. After a two year study of maintaining a large scale hydroponics farm, there is evidence that not only can there be a steady yield of produce, but that a majority of the crops will be cheaper to produce than to purchase from a local store. How much cheaper? For example, each kg of the leafy crown daisy was $1.78 cheaper than its market price, while each kg of leaf mustard was $3.71 cheaper. A few of the greens grown were even found to contain fewer contaminants than their market counterparts – including pesticides, nitrate, lead, and arsenic.
Hydroponic innovation in the U.S.
Commercial food markets in the U.S. have begun to dabble in growing their own food. Whole Foods in both Brooklyn and Lynnfield, MA are now growing year-round produce atop their rooftop in greenhouses, using traditional soil-based farming. But what about hydroponics? One venture to watch for as they strive to lead the hydroponics revolution in the U.S. is The Farmery, which developed its own indoor farming design – a complete growing system within a shipping container in Durham, North Carolina.
Founded by Ben Greene, The Farmery uses both hydroponics and aquaponics to grow an assortment of microgreens, lettuces, herbs, and mushrooms, including varieties not typically sold in stores due to their difficulty to ship or short shelf life. Greene’s goal? – To expand into a fully functional retail space selling produce grown on-site.
Greene’s climate-proof food supply methods are admirable. He uses only organic nutrients and growing substrates, with ladybugs and tree frogs to control aphids and other pests. The Farmery is also energy efficient – the LED lighting can even be controlled from a smartphone. The single 40-foot indoor farm uses the same amount of energy as a large produce cooler.
For now, Greene operates a seasonal airstream food truck, using ingredients sourced from an on-site growing container. Until funding can be accumulated to launch The Farmery into the next phase, he continues to strengthen this Durham food source. Greene refers to himself as “the Willie Wonka of agriculture,” and we’d have to agree – he is a creator, who pushes the boundaries of innovation in his field.
Are their local food markets in your area that use hydroponics to promote a climate-proof food supply? Support these businesses. We suspect we will be seeing more of these agricultural ventures pop up in the coming years. If more local food retailers can produce a climate-proof food supply, we will strengthen our sources and be better off in a temporary or long-term food reduction brought on by global warming.