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Skyscraper farming


By Holly Martin

Could tomorrow's farmers live the city life?

This past week, Wall Street Journal published a story about the future of farming. And the future, according to this article, may not be what you think. It is vertical farming, or the idea that large, several-story greenhouses can produce food in urban areas.

The benefit of vertical farming, the article says, is growing the food locally, instead of trucking it from farms. The article says, "There won't be as many delivery trucks guzzling fuel and belching out exhaust, and city dwellers will get easier access to fresh, healthy food."

The concept isn't bad and the research is still developing to find a system that would be cost-effective. But many critics point out that the use of artificial light will wipe out the environmental benefit of less diesel use to truck the vegetables.

Researching new ways to provide food for the world is a good mission, but I worry that trendy ideas may be influencing this concept. We all know "local" is the new black. While organic was (and probably still is) the hot trend just a few years ago, now foodies are focused on getting their foods locally.

From my perspective it is a trend that's just fine until these foodies want a banana. Or a strawberry in February. Or they want to make that wonderful recipe for chocolate mango mousse. Last I checked, cacao beans and mangos don't grow in Seattle.

Let's be clear. I see nothing wrong with a chocolate mango mousse. In fact, it sounds pretty darn good. And thankfully, I can make a chocolate mango mousse if I so choose due to our sophisticated modern food system that ships mangos and cacao beans from South America to Dodge City.

There are benefits to local. You can have a relationship with the farmer who grew those tomatoes. And the steer that provided your celebratory steak being raised just a few miles from your home supports your local economy. But just because something is local, doesn't make it inherently better.

And here's something else that bothers me about the upward movement of greenhouses in cities--it's ironic, don't you think? Confining animals in an "industrialized farm" is wrong. But growing vegetables in very much the same way is not?

Who is the guy who decides what modern farming techniques are acceptable and others are not? I want to meet him. Because I get the feeling that he's not all that consistent in his decisions. In the meantime, I think I'll trust science to sort it all out.

Holly Martin can be reached by phone at 1-800-452-7171 ext. 1806, or by email at hmartin@hpj.com.

Date: 10/22/2012

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