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Could the Future of Farming be Urban?

Urban Farming

Over the last two centuries, the United States of America has been transformed from a predominantly rural, agricultural nation into an urban one. Currently, over four-fifths of the U.S. population resides in urban areas. And yet, the urban population relies on food transported from farms hundreds, even thousands of miles away. And that includes everyone from sprawling suburban Detroit through to high-rise Brooklyn NY but also several areas which simply don’t have any grocery facilities at all- these are the so-called “food deserts”

At the same time, cities are getting bigger and more affluent and the demand for fresh healthy food is growing. As the food chain becomes more precarious sudden shocks shine a light on just how sensitive we are- the incredible multi-state breakout of E Coli via Romaine lettuce in 2018 (is still being investigated).

Changing the route to the plate

There’s a lot of attention on the food distribution system but it seems a solution is at hand. Indoor farming isn’t a new idea- greenhouses have been around for hundreds of years! Similarly, neither is hydroponics, growing food without soil by feeding roots nutrients directly, which was developed in California in the 1930s and refined over the decades, not least by NASA’s examination of hydroponics as a way of growing food in space.

Over recent years these established technologies have come together in vertical farming and most especially in retrofitted shipping containers, turned into indoor farms. These give a second life to the standard 20 and 40ft steel container used in shipping goods across the world. The interiors are cleaned, sanitized, and fitted out with a complete indoor farm.

Light, temperature, humidity and nutrients can be tightly controlled so most vertical farms use 95% less water than normal farms and with 24/7 lighting and a regulated environment, many crops can have multiple harvests a year. Most vertical farms don’t even need soil because they use aeroponics or hydroponic systems – these dispense nutrients needed for plants to grow via mist or water. Because the system is closed with no “dirt” to grow in, there is no need for pesticides or herbicides. The result is much cleaner produce and significantly higher yields.

Many acknowledge that food grown from hydroponics simply lack the richness in taste you get from produce grown in soil grown. That’s why many ag companies (including our own), have developed proprietary soil systems that are pesticide and animal by-product free, to address the contamination aspects from soil, while providing the same taste benefits from produce grown in soil.
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  • Grow Pod Solutions founder Shannon Illingworth got interested in urban farming when he was infected with E. coli after eating at a restaurant. Not knowing where the food came from, he decided to create a system where the origin of food can be traced with an app on your phone.

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