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Problems in Agriculture – 2: Food Mileage

On average, food has to travel 2,400 kilometers from field to table. Traveling that far of a distance requires a lot of energy – it uses up refrigeration, transportation, stocking, and processing. One of the major problems with the way the current agriculture and food system is set up is the fact that food has to have so many miles on it before it reaches a family table. By crossing so many miles, the risk of the food getting contaminated, withering, spoiling, and losing its overall freshness increase exponentially. There are many problems with the way food has to travel so far to reach you, and there is one easy solution that citizens across the world can use to sustain themselves while still enjoying all of the nourishing foods they get imported . (Cuesa)

The local-food growing movement has steadily been gaining momentum. First, it started in already developed countries, as well as many developing countries. A local diet and shopping local simply means purchasing all of the food you consume within a 150-kilometer radius to your home. While the 150-kilometer radius mark is usually the most commonly accepted, there are some that also accept up to 250 kilometers depending on your location, especially if you’re in an especially dry and desert-like region. (Worldwatch Institute)

Not only are there benefits for you when you shop and grow local, but there are also countless environmental benefits. When food has to travel well over a thousand miles to reach your table, resources have been exhausted (gas for transportation, refrigeration, etc.) in order to get it there. Your food has, overall, less of an environmental impact when you switch to growing your own or shopping locally. By making the switch, you’re greatly diminishing your carbon footprint. Plus, local food is safer, preserves genetic diversity far more than imported foods, and there are a number of other benefits that growing local has to offer.

There are also many personal benefits that shopping for local food has to offer. First, food that was grown locally and just recently picked from the vine, tree, plant, or bush is going to taste and look better than anything mass-produced stored has to offer. Not only that, but local food has more nutritional value in each bite. Not only does your body reap the benefits of everything that local food has to offer, but you also get the joy of talking to a local grower or farmer that you’re helping by shopping at their location instead of a big-time grocery store. Getting to help a local grower put food on their own table by shopping through them is reward enough. (University of Vermont)

There is a distinct difference between local food and sustainable food that is important to mention when discussing the switch to shopping locally. While they are sometimes used interchangeably or as synonyms, “local” food is simply food that is grown within a certain mile radius from your home. “Sustainable,” on the other hand, is food that has the ability to be maintained at a specific rate or level, thriving and becoming chock full of vitamins and nutrients that the counterparts and mass-produced grocery stores could never compared to.

Once you become fully aware of the problems that the current food system is facing, you can become more active in doing something to change the system and you can stay informed about what the agriculture field is becoming. By switching to local foods, you reduce the risk of food getting damaged, spoiled, or contaminated, and you help a local farm near you instead of a big-time corporation or company.

This article is part of a miniseries about problems in current agriculture.
Read the previous articles here: Part1

 

 

By |March 21st, 2016|Categories: Blog|Tags: , |0 Comments

Problems in Agriculture – 1: High Usage of Chemicals

<img class="alignnone wp-image-413 size-full" src="http://swissponic.ch/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Agriculture-High-Usage-of-Chemicals.jpg" alt="" width="700" height="400" srcset="http://swissponic.ch/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Agriculture-High-Usage-of-Chemicals .jpg 700w, http://swissponic.ch/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Agriculture-High-Usage-of-Chemicals-300×171.jpg 300w” sizes=”(max-width: 700px) 100vw, 700px” />

This is part 1 of a mini-series of articles on the problems of current agriculture.mens club 24

The human population in the world never ceases its steady increase upwards, which is why it’s no surprise that it’s projected there will be 9 billion people on the planet in just 40 years. There are many pressing matters in the agricultural field that needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later, especially when taking the population of the world into consideration. The first item to add to the itinerary, before addressing other agriculture issues, is the fact that there are such high usage levels of chemicals for fungicides, fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides – really, any chemicals sprayed on the food that people are supposed to later eat. (Grace Communications Foundation)

It’s obvious that there are many benefits to using pesticides on crops, because otherwise the world wouldn’t be saturating the food we eat in them. However, the hazards that pesticides have to offer far outweigh any benefits they could possible offer to the crops. A field of crops with a pest problem is a much better alternative to a field of crops dusted with chemicals that are extremely harmful and provide unwanted side effects to people and animals alike. (Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University)

Not only is there a hazardous effect to all human health that comes in contact with the harmful pesticides uses to treat most crops, but those particular chemicals are also harmful to the environment that they sit in. Pesticides contaminate turf, soil, water, and any vegetation that it comes into contact with. It is a disease that slowly kills off the beauty of a land, leaving in its place a withered husk of unhealthy crops and dying land. (Cornell University)

A problem that’s happening worldwide because of harmful pesticides is groundwater pollution. Over 140 various pesticides along with over 20 transformation products have been found polluting ground water areas. Pollution detection has been found in 43 states in the US, and an alarming 58% of drinking water samples that were drawn from the hand pumps and wells throughout India were found polluted as well. (National Institute of Health)

Not only do the pesticides seep into the groundwater, but they also seep into the soil. Even though most of the pesticides that originally created this problem are no longer sold on the market, the residue of their toxic stay remains present. The populations of microorganisms that provided beneficial soil decline when pesticides are sprayed on the area. Over time, the microorganisms are no longer able to provide the necessary nutrients the soil needs, and the soil dies completely. (Food Alliance)

Pesticides are harmful to just about everywhere they touch – including the very air that it was sprayed into before it reached the crops. It contaminates the air, the soil, and any non-target vegetation within the vicinity. What many may not realize is that there is a certain level of drift with any sort of equipment that would be used to spray pesticides across crops. In fact, as much as 2-25% of the chemical that’s applied to the crops drifts a distance of just a few yards to as far as a few hundred miles. This can substantially effect a massive portion of land, contaminating all of the non-targeted plants and vegetation, soil, air, and water. (L.E.A.F.)

The chemicals used for current agriculture are overwhelmingly harmful to the environment it’s presented to. Not only do pesticides contaminate non-targeted plants outside of the crop range – for as far as a few hundred miles – but by contaminating the non-targeted plants, the animals and insects that ingest these plants are also contaminated and potentially harmed. Bees, specifically, are slowly dying because of this very problem. It’s absolutely vital that current agriculture alters the way that crops are taken care of with pesticides, as the areas contaminated and effected will only spread out more and more as the problem persists.

 

Guess how we can solve these problems?

 

 

By |March 16th, 2016|Categories: Blog|Tags: , |0 Comments

Swissponic joins Association for Vertical Farming

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As part of the growing movement of Urban Farming, I’m very happy to announce that Swissponic has joined the Association for Vertical Farming.
The association is a “nonprofit organization focusing on advancing Urban and Vertical Farming technologies, designs and businesses” and is the ideal cooperation platform for the actors involved in urban farming.

By joining, we hope to give our practical contribute and our expertise to the other members and to the whole community.

By |March 14th, 2016|Categories: Blog|Tags: |0 Comments

Going vertical

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As many of you, I recently read the thought-provoking article Why Growing Vegetables in High-Rises Is Wrong on So Many Levels by Dr. Stan Cox of The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas.

Dr. Cox writing is full interesting argumentations and while I agree on some of them, there are some issues that left me a little puzzled. Since I’m a very curious guy, I just have some questions for him (if he will ever read this article).

Stan Cox:

Unless I misunderstand the meaning of feasibility, Dr. Cox may have used the wrong word.
According to Toyoki Kozai’s paper (cited by Dr. Cox himself), only in Japan there were over 130 Plant Factories with Artificial Light (PFAL) by the end of 2012. Many more have been established all around the world. If they were not feasible, how could they work?

And Dr. Kozai conclusions:

Isn’t this in contradiction with the fact that they are “not feasible”?

But let’s not focus on single words meaning, because in the rest of the article Dr. Cox states clearly what are his concerns. The main one being the fact that Vertical Gardens/Farms are very energy-hungry, especially for lighting.

In Dr. Cox words:

Nobody disputes that VFs consume a lot of energy, but I’m curious to understand where the 1,200 kWh estimation come from, since Dr. Kozai articles mention that “PAR energy consumed to produce one kg of dry matter is 740 (= 20.0/0.027) MJ/kg or 205 (= 740/3.6) kWh.”
How was 1,200 kWh calculated?

I would also like to understand how he calculated the following figure:

Could somebody please shed some light over this 1.3 billion tons number?

Then, he writes about another issue, that VF produces will not be for every budget. Citing another study:

And the very same GIZ paper concludes also:

Sure that 3.50 €/kg to 6.00 €/kg is maybe not a popular price, but it’s not so far away from current vegetable costs. We are not talking about orders of magnitude of difference.
Why is Dr. Cox so critical over production costs? In the long term, advancing in technology will improve the yields and drive down the production costs. It always happens with new technology/products introduced to the market. Just think about smartphones, TVs, cars, and just almost anything else.

It is clear that Dr . Cox is very critical about vertical farms with artificial lighting and very categorical about their the non-feasibility.
His article left me with doubts, but he is right in pointing out some issues about VF. Indoor farming is very power-hungry. Costs are not yet on par with current growing methods. VF is not applicable in all situations and is not the solution to ALL the problems.

But just saying that VF is not feasible, stop thinking about it, forget about it, it’s a little too limiting. Dismissing the whole VF concept because there are some issues, is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, there are issues, and it’s important that we acknowledge them, and then we discuss and explore the possible solutions.

We need also to give a more comprehensive look at the problem.
If on one side we have the high energy consumption of lights (and temperature regulation), on the other hand vertical farms save on energy used for other agriculture operations. Just think about soil preparation, seeding, irrigation, fertilization, chemicals distribution, transportation, processing, packaging, refrigeration… all these operations in some way have an impact on the environment.

What we need is a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) comparing VF and traditional agriculture and including the whole cycle of the plant, from cradle to table.
It is important to consider not only the energy and environmental impact, but also the other advantages of VF, such as the drastic reduction of pesticides and herbicides, healthier food, better use of water resources and increased food security.

Only with complete analyses of different situations we could assess if, when and where a VF is “feasible”.

What is your opinion? If you have links to good LCA analysis of VF compared to traditional agriculture, leave them in the comments.

By |February 26th, 2016|Categories: Blog|Tags: , |0 Comments

Controller Beta Testing Program is starting

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We finally received the controllers printed circuit boards from our manufacturer and they look gorgeous (at least for geek-minded people like me). We started to test them and we immediately found an issue… one of the mounted microchip is wrong. The model number differs by just one letter, but the chip is completely different and it doesn’t work in our circuit. A further investigation with the PCB manufacturer brought to light that they received the wrong component from the chip manufacturer itself and they didn’t check well before mounting it.
So bad.

After a few minutes of despair, we quickly found a solution. PCB manufacturer was very helpful and so we sent back the boards to replace the chips. They are being reworked right now, and in few days we will have them back on our desk.

This small setback doesn’t change our plan and today I’m proud to announce that we are opening subscription to our Controller Beta Testing Program.
If you are a passionate grower, you can check all the controller details here and join the program here!

If you are not interested in joining the Beta Test team and just want to receive the end product after all testing, we offer a special pre-sale price that will last until we go into full production at the end of the beta program.
You can pre-order your controller today here.

Join the green revolution!

By |February 19th, 2016|Categories: Blog|Tags: , , |Comments Off on Controller Beta Testing Program is starting

PCBs on the way

I just received news from our supplier that controller’s PCBs are on the way . We will receive them in few days and then we will program them, do the final tests, assembly the enclosures, package them and they will be ready for starting Beta Test!

In the meanwhile, we are finalizing all the documents and clearing out all the non-technical details. We will open the applications very soon, stay tuned!

By |February 4th, 2016|Categories: Blog|Tags: , , |Comments Off on PCBs on the way