Old McDonald might be surprised to see the way farms have evolved over the years. For decades, farmers have taken many strides to adapt to availability of natural resources, enhance sustainable practices, increase productivity and still maintain continuing to support our food supply chain. At the same time, research (like in our 2017 Food and Health Survey) has shown that consumers are concerned with sustainability when they make food and beverage purchases.
In an effort to produce food with environmental stewardship in mind — not just to please the consumer, but to also responsibly use resources and simultaneously protect their livelihoods — farmers have taken on a “sustainability challenge.” Here enters innovation in farming practices! Read more below about a modern farming practice on the rise.
A Fresh Way to Farm
Another new way to grow food with limited natural resources has been gaining some hype, as it should, called vertical farming. Here, fruits and vegetables can be grown without the use of soil or natural sunlight, and the produce is often able to grow faster than in a traditional farm setting. A key advantage of vertical farms is that they can occur in an urban area and don’t require wide-open land; all you need is specialized building space. So forget rows and rows of crops outdoors in Indiana or Kansas and think about high-tech grow house buildings in Michigan, Wyoming or California.
Growing More, Treating Less
Many vertical farms have noted being able to grow crops to full maturity in half the number of days of a traditional crop with the same yield, using 95 percent less water and 50 percent less fertilizers, while using zero pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. This translates into even more savings of energy and resource inputs.
Another benefit is that growing food in a locally equipped warehouse cuts travel time and energy use significantly. The reduction in “food miles” for transporting produce that is grown five to 10 miles, as opposed to hundreds of miles away is an environmental benefit. It reduces greenhouse gas emissions and energy use from powering vehicles for transport, which is a clear sustainability plus.
Because we all have to eat (yes, all 7 billion of us around the globe), actions to reduce the environmental footprint of food production are very significant because they help secure the Earth’s ability to continue to feed us adequately for years to come — and as the population continues to grow.
Farming Vertically, Not Horizontally
Growing food by using vertical farming techniques is not just farming differently, it is farming with an enhanced focus of sustainability and accessibility in mind. But even though the concept is a benefit to our food production landscape and has been around for decades, it has taken time to make it economically practical. Of course, this is no small feat. It has taken many years to accomplish establishing the many successful vertical farms around today. It took time to improve the indoor farming process — time to develop seeds that could grow under different conditions via genetic selection, time to develop the special LED lighting to optimize the photosynthesis process for the seeds to grow and time to engineer the mechanics needed to grow, harvest and package the foods too.
Sustainability starts on the farm because that is where food comes from, but the definition of “farm” is changing. Vertical farming looks to be a key farming methodology that can support the development of a sustainable food system. Feeding the world takes quite a bit of food, but it also takes proactive effort to innovate methodologies to grow our food in a reliable way.