Okay, let’s be real – most of us have no clue what it takes to grow food … or much about farming, generally. But, despite our potential ignorance of the tenets of farming, most of us would say that in order to grow crops you need dirt, water, and sunshine. With these three things at the ready, all you have to do is add a few seeds, sit back and wait for tomatoes! Ah, how wonderfully simple (we guess…)!
Now, regardless of whether or not we know what it takes to grow food, there is one thing that the majority of people in the U.S. are wholly unaware of – where our food comes from. Chances are, you picture the above farming ideal when you think about the produce that ends up in your grocery store. In reality, most of our food is grown on a large-scale industrial farm with the help of giant tractors and heavy machinery.
The bulk of the food grown in the U.S. is made up of things called “commodity crops,” such as corn, wheat, and soy. The majority of these crops are never fed to people but instead redirected to livestock, used in packaged foods, or relegated to the biofuel industry. In order to make these crops, which are grown en masse with little to no biodiversity, resistant to pests and disease, they’re frequently doused with herbicides, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers. Once a field of monocultures has been farmed repeatedly, the soil becomes depleted of nutrients and therefore, the nutrition content and quality of the food goes down. Crops also become less resistant to bugs and infection, leading to the need for higher strength pesticides and herbicides – plus more fertilizer to make up for the depleted soil.
On top of this, produce that is grown in the U.S. travels an average of 1,500 miles to get from farm to grocery store – that’s like half the distance of the country. In order to make this possible, they have to be locked in refrigeration units and or frozen themselves, so when you finally get to the tomatoes in your grocery store – it more than often tastes like a potato with the consistency of a peach.
Adding insult to injury, our industrialized food system is failing to feed people – around one in nine people worldwide go to bed hungry every night and countless communities – many of which are in urban areas – are deemed “food deserts,” completely devoid of healthy, fresh, affordable foods.
So, if you’re like us, you’ve probably figured that mass producing food isn’t exactly the answer to feeding the growing population of Americans. In fact, our reckless industrial farming practices are rendering us less able to produce food, especially in the face of changing climate conditions.
But, since we need dirt, water, and sunshine to grow food … seems like we’re pretty set in our ways. Right? Well, Rob Laing, farmer of the future and CEO of Farm.One might beg to differ.
In a recent episode of the #EatForThePlanet with Nil Zacharias podcast, Rob explains how he is pioneering the world of hydroponics, a system of growing plants without many of the traditional inputs. Basically, using just a finely tuned solution of water, Farm.One can grow crops without soil or even sunlight. In fact, Farm.One is a unique indoor farm in downtown Manhattan, which uses hydroponics to reduce water use by around 95 percent, and advanced climate control technology to grow a wide variety of plants year-round without pesticides, pollution, soil contamination, herbicides, manure or waiting in cold storage.
His specialty is microgreens and specialty herbs, which he grows on demand for some of New York City’s top rated chefs, but he sees the future of farming as going far beyond this.
Listen in to hear how Rob thinks technology can transform the food system and help to create a more sustainable, healthy world!
You can listen to the full episode on the following platforms: iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher
If you like this episode, be sure to subscribe to the #EatForThePlanet with Nil Zacharias podcast for new episodes with food industry leaders, health, and sustainability experts, as well as entrepreneurs and creative minds who are redefining the future of food.
Image source: Farm.One