Will Allen at Growing Power’s Milwaukee farm.
Photo courtesy of: New York Times
The Future of Farming
In the desolate plains of Laramie, Wyoming three friends came together with a vision to create a new way to farm. Together they formed Bright AgroTech, a company focused on sustainable farming through aquaponics.
“Our technological goals are to restore symbiotic relationships between crops and livestock, and ensure that the gifts that we have been given are being used effectively, efficiently and profitably,” according to the company’s website.
Abundant and inexpensive food is expected in the American markets today, but this comes at a cost. Industrial agriculture relies on extreme amounts of water, energy and chemicals, such as pesticides and fertilizers. Soils are becoming over-tilled and depleted of nutrients and crop failures are becoming more and more common with extreme changes in weather.
The U.S. food market heavily relies on the production of genetically modified and nutritionally poor crops like corn and soybeans. As food production becomes more industrial, an influx of obese, malnourished and diseased adults and children becomes an American epidemic.
As these problems arise, farmers have begun turning to alternative methods of growing their crops. Methods like aquaponics and hydroponics have become a powerful movement with support from agricultural and dining communities across the country. Metropolitan areas are becoming dotted by urban gardens on rooftops, old warehouses and city sidewalks. The small, soil-less farming allows greens to flourish despite restrictions by weather or location.
The creators of Bright Agrotech are not alone in their mission to change the way consumers get their food.
Photo courtesy of: Bright AgroTech
From Farm to Table
“We have customers that are very intentional in their trips to our café. They respond very positively to our approach. They come specifically because of what they believe,” David Boucher, owner of Amaranth Bakery and Cafe in Milwaukee said, “as well as my wife’s baked goods.”
Restaurants with a passion for sustainable dining have turned to alternative farms to provide them with fresh, local produce. Growing Power, one of Amaranth’s vendors, provides produce for over 35 restaurants, bakeries and cafes throughout the Chicago and Milwaukee metropolitan areas from its urban, hydroponic and aquaponic farms.
Photo courtesy of: The Tailor and the Cook
“The beauty of these systems is that you do tend to take one huge variable out, which is the bakeries of mother nature,” Boucher said. “This year one of our local farmers has had a miserable time with strawberry crops and greens. It’s been so dry that they’ve been irrigating non-stop. They have had infestations and the inability to germinate because it’s been so dry. The beauty of these systems is they can take that variability out.”
This farmer’s story is common.
“In Central New York we are prisoner to the climate. We have a couple of months for good produce, so when we became aware of year round produce from Aqua Vita it was a no-brainer,” Tim Hardiman, chef and owner of The Tailor and the Cook in Utica, New York said.
The Tailor and the Cook receives greens from Aqua-Vita Farms, an aquaponic farm serving Central New York, with their roots still in tact. Produce this fresh isn’t an option from most other produce purveyors. Hardiman explained that produce from other purveyors is likely to be eleven days old before reaching his kitchen.
“The fact that we can get it 365 days a year is key,” he said.
Hydroponics at Home
Photo courtesy of: WindowFarms
While chefs and restauranteurs turn to alternative farms to fill their sustainable menus, home gardeners can do the same.
In 2009, Britta Riley built a vertical garden in her fifth floor Brooklyn apartment window, using recycled water bottles and plumbing supplies. Through social-media, her system went viral and led to the creation of Windowfarms, an international community of at-home, hyrdoponic gardeners.
Riley’s design has been widely featured throughout the media, prominent food blogs and documentaries, and her online community now has over 40,000 members.
Windowfarm’s online store provides vertical farm structures, as well as liquid plant food, plant supplements and “baby plants” for apartment-dwellers looking to start their own window garden.
For sustainable home gardeners outside the big city, Bright AgroTech sells a product line they use in the high plains. The Laramie company sells hydroponic and aquaponic systems under their ZipGrow line.
From the urban gardeners of the cramped, big city to farmers struggling to grow in harsh climates, alternative farming is providing answers.
“Most importantly, we want everyone to participate in a new sustainability, from consumers looking for healthy, local produce to producers with their hands in the earth,” Bright AgroTech’s website states. “We believe and pray that our children will inherit what we’ve started — and when that is your mindset, sustainability is the only option.”