How indoor ag is growing a resilient food revolution

It’s not just about growing more food and using fewer inputs. It’s also about creating local, adaptive food systems that can withstand the effects of climate change.

We’re at a pivotal moment in an important trend for sustainable food systems: the emergence of sustainably grown food in urban environments. As the growth and maturity of these operations continue, they could play a critical role in food security amid a changing climate as well as the continuing shift in global trade patterns.

They also could be key in eliminating food deserts, neighborhoods that lack a supermarket selling produce, serviced only by convenience stores that stock nutrient-poor packaged foods and beverages.

A great deal of the technology that enables indoor growing was developed and honed over the past two decades by cannabis farmers, who learned how to grow plants at scale in confined (and usually hidden) spaces. They use controlled-environment agriculture, including hydroponics — growing plants without soil — a technology as ancient as the fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon, thought to be the first example of soilless gardening.

Today, such technologies are used on the International Space Station to study plant growth outside the Earth’s atmosphere and how best to supply food and oxygen for future colonization missions to Mars and beyond.

Even on Spaceship Earth, such technologies make a lot of sense. Growing leafy greens, specialty herbs, tomatoes and other produce indoors using hydroponics consumes up to 95 percent less water than growing them outdoors and uses fewer pesticides — sometimes none at all. Hydroponics has long been central to the Dutch and Japanese food systems, but the relatively cheap cost of land and water in the United States, combined with the costly energy intensity of lighting, made hydroponics too expensive for growing anything but high-value cash crops (such as cannabis).

That’s changing. Today, there is the new breed of indoor ag companies sprouting up all over, many using tricked-out shipping containers, LED lighting and a simple continuous-flow watering system. Environmental controls ensure that temperature, airflow, carbon dioxide and humidity levels remain optimized.

In the East Ward neighborhood of Ironbound in Newark, New Jersey, for example, AeroFarms built the world’s largest vertical farm using aeroponics, in which racks of crops are grown indoors using neither soil nor water. Most of the seed money for the operation came from Goldman Sachs’s Urban Investment Group.

AeroFarms’ 69,000-square-foot facility, in a former steel factory, can grow 2 million pounds of leafy greens annually, all without using a speck of dirt or a ray of sunlight. The company says the same seed that would take 30 to 45 days to grow in the field can grow in 12 to 16 days indoors, enabling up to 30 crop turns a year.

Read more — Source: How indoor ag is growing a resilient food revolution | GreenBiz

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