Sunday, April 28, 2013
Grow Room To Table
Some people don't find a lot of daylight between gardening and farming, and attribute both to outdoors. Modern urban residents are bridging the gaps between farmer/gardener, and are redefining the way we think of agriculture/horticulture. Indoor gardening is the latest in the trendy green movement. It takes an old idea, updates it's technology, and uses it in modern applications. Indoor gardeners of the past were mainly relegated to greenhouses and conservatories designed for the affluent. These gardens were mostly filled with exotic species of plants from remote places around the globe, or acclimated natives that need protection from harsh winter climates. With the invention of residential climate control systems, and the growing number of urban nurseries, more and more people are becoming part of environmentalist call an urban farming movement. Half the people on Earth live in cities, and nearly half of those – about 3 billion – are hungry or malnourished, and the world is getting more crowded: by mid-century, the global population will grow from 6.8 billion to 9 billion, the U.N. predicts.To feed so many people may require expanding farmland at the expense of forests and wilderness, or finding ways to radically increase crop yields. The symptoms of climate change, and America's urban nutrition crisis is helping take the urban farming movement to the next level. The former indoor horticultural hobby is quickly turning into a business that may help feed urbanites in a more sustainable way, and help fight the battle against climate change at the same time. Indoor or Outdoor, the difference betwween gardener and farmer, is the difference between garden and farm. The systems the two work in use the same theory and practices, only on different scales, farming usually being on a larger scale than gardening. However, twenty first century technology promises to bring the large scale of outdoor farming indoors. The ability of man to mimic nature artificially is being played out in the Netherlands by a private research company called PlantLab. Gertjan Meeuws and three other dutch bio-engineers have taken the concept of a greenhouse a step further, growing vegetables, herbs and house plants in enclosed and regulated environments where even natural light is excluded.For more than a decade the four researchers have been tinkering with combinations of light, soil and temperature on a variety of plants, and now say their growth rate is three times faster than under greenhouse conditions. They use no pesticides, and about 90 percent less water than outdoors agriculture.In their research station, strawberries, yellow peppers, basil and banana plants take on an eerie pink glow under red and blue bulbs of Light-Emitting Diodes, or LEDs. Water trickles into the pans when needed and all excess is recycled, and the temperature is kept constant. Lights go on and off, simulating day and night, but according to the rhythm of the plant – which may be better at shorter cycles than 24 hours – rather than the rotation of the Earth. The Dutch researchers say they plan to build a commercial-sized building in the Netherlands of 14,000 sq. feet, with four separate levels of vegetation by the end of this year. After that, they envision growing vegetables next to shopping malls, supermarkets or other food retailers.Meeuws says a building of 1,075 sq. feet and 14 layers of plants could provide a daily diet of 7 ounces of fresh fruit and vegetables to about 140,000 people. Plants only need specific wavelengths of light to grow, but in nature they must adapt to the full range of light as a matter of survival. When light and other natural elements are manipulated, the plants become more efficient, using less energy to grow. While modern technology threatens to improve on mother natures efficiency, there are still questions about the repercussions for messing with her work. The Midwest is America's heartland, and was historically is known as the central food provider for the U.S. Due to globalization, industrialization of food systems, and the increasing diversification of dietary tastes, American commercial farms have vanished, and the U.S Agricultural industry is less diversified and increasingly environmentally unsustainable. People in cities across the country are using technology to transform baron urban environments into new age farmland. Entrepreneurs have taken up residence in vacant buildings that have high ceilings and plenty of space. Often, these are called “vertical” farms because, within the buildings, farmers build tall structures with several levels of growing beds, often lined with artificial lights. With so much vacant space available the cost of the property is often cheap to buy or rent. FarmedHere LLC in suburban Chicago, is attempting to take indoor warehouse farming to the “mega farm” level, in a region of the country known more for its massive hog, corn and soybean farms than for crops of boutique greens.The company, based in Bedford Park, Ill., is finishing the first of four phases, with plans to expand by the end of next year to 150,000 square feet of vertical growing space.Already, it says it is the largest vertical farm in the country, a claim experts who monitor the field believe to be true. The farm supplies local grocery with fresh basil, arugula and other greens, including Whole Foods and Mariano’s Fresh Market locations.The biggest stumbling block for facilities like these remains the amount of power and electricity needed to run the lights that help the plants grow, and heating these massive spaces.Some growers are experimenting with solar, wind and methane as ways to generate the power. Others are supplementing artificial light with natural greenhouse or window lighting.Dickson Despommier, a retired Columbia University microbiologist who wrote the book “The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century,” says powering farms is still the biggest hurdle for the industry, one that many farmers are often reluctant to talk about publicly.he’s anxious to see large indoor farming models in Japan that use both artificial and natural light. He says entrepreneurs in Germany also are experimenting with flickering lights that use less power but still emit enough light to grow plants. Despommier says “In another two or three years, this will shake out, and we’ll see which systems work, and which don’t.” The future of the Agriculture is moving from outdoor to inddor. Food that historically has been grown in rural environments on acres of land horizontally, may soon be growing vertically in buildings located in some of the worlds biggest cities. The perfect crop field could be inside a windowless building with meticulously controlled light, temperature, humidity, air quality and nutrition, in a New York high-rise. This could have a huge impact on future urban building design, and how living spaces in commercial and residential are prioritized(kitchen,bath,bed,grow-space,etc...). Kitchens in the future could be designed to produce the food we eat, along with storing and cooking it. The same fruits and vegetables that currently are grown on acres of land and sometimes travel thousands of miles in order to get to your plate, could be grown in what amounts to small office space located somewhere in your home. Our current global food system is environmentally unsustainable and in many ways insecure, and it looks like people in cities are implementing systems to breakdown, and reinvent human food production and distribution. I think Gertjan Meeuws says it best "In order to keep a planet that's worth living on, we have to change our methods,"