Pictured: Danville, Virginia AeroFarm
Welcome back to Envirobytes, the blog that crosses the intersections of climate change, food, technology, and storytelling. Last week, I overviewed different frameworks for environmental management that incorporate various degrees of Indigenous knowledge. This week, I spoke with Emily Gee, Associate Marketing Director at AeroFarms, about aeroponics – a new approach to farming. As a newcomer to the world of agriculture, my first question was probably the same as the one you are thinking of right now:
What is aeroponics?
Emily is more than used to answering this question. She says that aeroponics is an innovative indoor growing technique where plants grow in the air instead of soil in the case of more traditional agriculture or hydroponics where plants grow in any non-soil substrate. As a result, aeroponic agriculture uses up to 95% less water than soil-based agriculture. That is an unimaginable amount of water saved especially when you consider that annually, 70% of the world’s water is used for agriculture.
The ability to accommodate vertical farming also makes aeroponics appealing. It is currently estimated that 38% of gobal land surface are devoted to agriculture but because aeroponics do not rely on flat ground for growth, less surface area is used. This means more agricultural production per square foot and with minimal water usage.
AeroFarms was one of the leading pioneers in the field of aeroponics. Started in 2004 by Dr. Edward Harwood, AeroFarms carries the spirit of innovation that the late doctor was known for. Compared to industrial agriculture, aeroponics provides a less environmentally burdensome alternative that AeroFarms is dedicated to refining and developing.
Why should I care?
There are so many reasons. If you have not had a chance to read blog post two, ‘The Dirt on Industrial Farming,” I highly recommend that you check it out to understand the current issues with our way of farming in the United States.
Emily highlighted how aeroponics addresses soil degradation, nutrient content, climate resiliency, water conservation, and reliance on fertilizers. Basically, aeroponics presents a reasonable solution to the main issues with industrial agriculture. There is no soil to degrade, less water is used, and the nutrient-rich mist “feeds” the plants mean less fertilizer. Also, emissions derived from transporting greens across the country are reduced when aeroponics facilities are located closer to the markets they serve. As it stands, for the East Coast to get fresh vegetables, they must be grown in the Southwest and the shipped east. Aeroponics addresses issues of today as well as tomorrow.
Did you know that the vegetables you eat today are less nutritious than the vegetables your parents or grandparents ate growing up? Soil degradation eliminates the necessary chemicals that allow plants to grow into robust, healthy, and nutritious food products. Again, aeroponics avoids this issue by removing the root of the problem: soil. Emily told me that AeroFarms currently grow 550 different types of plants. From their website, you can find a diverse array of micro and baby greens in select stores now. AeroFarms is also working on methods of growing cacao and blueberries using aeroponics. Chocolate lovers rejoice! The human rights violations of the chocolate industry are an issue for another post, but AeroFarms’ development of cacao cultivation could mean a world of difference for laborers around the world.
As the climate continues to change, growing outdoors will become increasingly difficult. Aeroponics are typically done indoors where the climate can be regulated, agriculture can be conducted year-round, and technology can be used to closely monitor and regulate the growth environment as new developments are made. Furthermore, aeroponics would allow for food to be grown in places whose climate is incompatible to supporting plant growth like in arid, mountainous regions.
You can make a difference
The biggest thing Emily emphasized was that consumers can change the world by deciding to make a salad with aeroponically grown greens. As someone that frequently struggles with eco-anxiety and climate grief, it can feel like climate change is this overpowering, dominating force and that there is nothing an individual can do to stop it. Emily wants to challenge that narrative through supporting purpose driven organizations like AeroFarms and by voting with your wallet. The current model of agriculture in the United States is incredibly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and if enough people reflect that they care about climate change by spending money on alternatively grown food, the market will shift.
Some cool facts about AeroFarms
Not only is AeroFarms working on feeding the world in support of a climate resilient future, but they are a certified B Corporation. These corporations demonstrate that a business meets high standards of performance, accountability, and transparency on social and environmental performance. Emily tells me that the B Corp status is not an accreditation that is easy to come by. It requires rigorous vetting by a third-party board and results are also publicly available on bcorporation.net. AeroFarms has an overall score of 83/100 where ordinary businesses typically score around 51. Beyond their status as a B Corp, AeroFarms supports 12 out of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and is always pushing to address the last five.
Next week, I will share about new sustainability technologies and how the extractive process of developing technology may help us generate longer lasting climate solutions. Thanks for reading and stay hungry for more Envirobytes!
Leave a Reply