A Sustainable Food Cycle

One of the largest contributors to problems in our society in general has got to be the way we’re eating right now. There are people in Canada who crave things like watermelons, cantaloupe and pineapple even in the middle of winter. Clearly none of those things can be grown in either Canada or the US in January without being grown in a greenhouse, so typically those fruits and others are flown/trucked in from thousands of kilometres away.

The result is a vastly inefficient food cycle. Things are even poorly managed locally during the past few years. E. coli outbreaks, listeria, salmonella, etc. The solution? It may be vertical farming.

Walrus magazine has a fantastic article on the possibilities here, and TIME Magazine also has an article on the issue here.

You may think these people are crazy, but the craziest ideas throughout history usually prove to be the best. Think about it! Farmers certainly wouldn’t get put out of business: they would just need to change the way they do things. Real estate is becoming less and less expensive lately, so finding a decent-sized building to lease or buy for probably the same amount of money it costs to buy a decent piece of farmland probably wouldn’t be that difficult. The article in TIME talks about a professor drawing up plans for a 30-story skyscraper that would be a massive hydroponic farm. Unfortunately it sounds like he’s thinking of building a brand new building, which just doesn’t make sense in a city like NYC. In London though, or Toronto, surely 10 or 20 stories could be leased for far less, especially if a government subsidy is provided.

And why not? The other benefits are many. Less pollutants, used water not absorbed by the plants could be recycled and used again to water them, far greater control over the environment and therefore being able to grow year round (yielding 2 or 3 times as many crops), no chemical fertilizers would be necessary to keep pests away and, of course, no tractors spewing out fumes! Energy costs could be supplemented by placing solar panels on top of the building and ensuring everything used inside is as energy-efficient as possible.

A company in Texas, Valcent, is already testing out this technique and it would seem they’re having some success. And if for some reason the idea of this type of farming bothers you, well then maybe you should tour around a farm next summer.

The article in Walrus also brings up another solution to importing so much of our food: a program that was setup to produce a network of growers and buyers to ensure that local produce is being used as much as possible. The result is Local Food Plus, based in Toronto. A similar system exists in Vancouver, called FarmFolk/CityFolk. Local Food Plus was able to attract New College at University of Toronto to commit to including in their new food services contract that 10% of the food budget must come from local sources, with a 5% increase per year.

Think of the implications! Local farmers knowing damn well that they’re food is going somewhere it will be valued and eaten, and nearby! Local Food Plus also certifies that any producers/farmers meet certain standards, which are published on their website.

So what’s the solution? Well it’s at least two-pronged. Doing our best to used locally-grown foods as often as possible, but also ensuring we explore new growing opportunities so that we can be sure we’ll always have the supply we need. I mean, why not grow pineapples in London in the middle of winter if we can?!