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Growing Crops the Indoor Way

Growing Crops the Indoor Way

Monday, 25 May, 2020 - 05:15
(AFP Photo/Benjamin Cremel)
Washington- Lori Zanteson

Farming is moving indoors to help bring fresh food to urban environments and, ultimately, to feed the world efficiently, sustainably and cleanly. To feed a rapidly growing population, costly farming practices need to change. Industrial agriculture is responsible for over 70% of the global water supply, hundreds of millions of pounds of pesticides in the U.S. alone, the loss of arable farmland, and a high carbon footprint. Indoor agriculture is successfully tackling many of those challenges. It may not be a cure-all for all that's broken in modern agriculture, but it's certainly a leap into the future of farming and food production.


What is indoor farming?


Indoor farming is growing plants or crops entirely indoors. Often seen on a small scale, like a home greenhouse or basement, it usually refers to large scale commercial farming, popular in large cities where plots of land are not easily available or ideal for growing crops. Urban locations are being used to bring fresh, local produce to communities where it's not always accessible. Many utilize vertical farms (multi-level, green walls), which maximize the plants grown in a small area, producing far more than traditional outdoor, soil-based farms.


There are many variations of indoor growing methods, but hydroponics, aeroponics and artificial lights are commonly used to provide plants with nutrients and light needed for them to grow. Some indoor farms, like greenhouses, utilize a combination of natural and simulated resources, such as natural sunlight and liquid nutrient fertilizers. Others are completely controlled by the farmer. In controlled environment agriculture (CEA), farmers determine precise amounts of light exposure each crop receives, the nutrient levels provided, moisture levels and temperature. Not all crops are grown indoors, but lettuces, herbs, tomatoes and fruits are popular.


Eco-friendly?


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Environmental Nutrition: Growing crops the indoor way

By Lori Zanteson on Mar 23, 2020

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Environmental Nutrition


Farming is moving indoors to help bring fresh food to urban environments and, ultimately, to feed the world efficiently, sustainably and cleanly. To feed a rapidly growing population, costly farming practices need to change. Industrial agriculture is responsible for over 70% of the global water supply, hundreds of millions of pounds of pesticides in the U.S. alone, the loss of arable farmland, and a high carbon footprint. Indoor agriculture is successfully tackling many of those challenges. It may not be a cure-all for all that's broken in modern agriculture, but it's certainly a leap into the future of farming and food production.


What is indoor farming?


Indoor farming is growing plants or crops entirely indoors. Often seen on a small scale, like a home greenhouse or basement, it usually refers to large scale commercial farming, popular in large cities where plots of land are not easily available or ideal for growing crops. Urban locations are being used to bring fresh, local produce to communities where it's not always accessible. Many utilize vertical farms (multi-level, green walls), which maximize the plants grown in a small area, producing far more than traditional outdoor, soil-based farms.


There are many variations of indoor growing methods, but hydroponics, aeroponics and artificial lights are commonly used to provide plants with nutrients and light needed for them to grow. Some indoor farms, like greenhouses, utilize a combination of natural and simulated resources, such as natural sunlight and liquid nutrient fertilizers. Others are completely controlled by the farmer. In controlled environment agriculture (CEA), farmers determine precise amounts of light exposure each crop receives, the nutrient levels provided, moisture levels and temperature. Not all crops are grown indoors, but lettuces, herbs, tomatoes and fruits are popular.


Eco-friendly?


Indoor farming is more efficient and uses fewer resources than traditional farming methods. A fraction of indoor farm space has the same crop yield as a much larger outdoor space. In fact, it's 100 times as productive as traditional agriculture. Indoor crops need less water (85% to 95% less), no pesticides, and grow twice as quickly because the climate, weather and seasons are controlled. They are also located in large cities, and are closer to consumers, so they don't travel long distances to market.


Fewer food miles


Reducing food miles, the distance food travels to consumers, helps indoor farms keep a low carbon footprint. "When greenhouses or other indoor agriculture systems can be put in place near consumers, the fuel and other energy involved in transporting and storing the foods can be reduced. This can be a very positive thing, especially when considering issues such as food access barriers or large urban population centers," says Robin Currey, PhD., Director of Sustainable Food Systems at Prescott College, Arizona. Traditionally grown produce is generally grown in a large, central area and then shipped to cold storage, then transported across the country before it's finally delivered to markets. Indoor agriculture all but eliminates the polluting emissions of food distribution.


High energy


Reliance upon high-tech indoor systems that include lighting, heating, cooling, hydroponics and more takes a lot of energy. Depending on climate, that can mean a significant environmental cost. A study published in a 2015 issue of the Journal of Cleaner Production found that heating greenhouses in France used so much energy that the tomatoes grown in them had a higher carbon footprint than imported tomatoes grown in unheated greenhouses in Morocco. Although Currey agrees the energy use is significant, she says "But with growth projections of upwards of 14 percent per annum in the controlled environment agriculture sector and energy accounting for upwards of 30 percent of operating costs, we can be assured that companies will be looking for energy and thus cost efficiencies."


Health impact


Indoor farmers claim that control over environmental conditions, including sunlight, fertilizer nutrients, and no pesticides, improves crops in terms of health, nutrition, quality, and flavor. In addition, the closed growing environment helps minimize risk of contamination from foodborne illness from factors like animal waste or tainted groundwater that can affect traditionally grown crops.


How nutrition compares


"The nutrient content of any plant is dependent on two global factors: genetics and environmental conditions," says Currey. Vitamin A content of one variety of pepper, she explains, can vary from another variety by a factor of nearly 20,000. Plants also get their nutrients from the soil, or in the case of indoor farming, from the soilless medium in which they are grown. "Unsustainable agriculture can and does deplete the soil, leaving little for plants to uptake," says Currey. "Sustainable agriculture in healthy soils results in healthy plants that can have higher micronutrient contents than a similar variety grown in a depleted soil." So, depending on the nutrient concentration, plants getting nutrients from hydroponic fertilizers can be as nutritious, or even more so than those grown in nutrient-rich soil.


Indoor farming's movement toward smaller footprint agriculture using technology to produce healthy food in a sustainable way that can make local produce accessible to more people can potentially change the way we feed the world. While there are several factors to consider between sustainably-grown outdoor crops and indoor-grown crops, the goal is the same--to make fresh, nutritious food accessible to all.


Environmental Nutrition

via Tribune Media


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