Thankfully, there’s a growing awareness of the deep connection between our diet and our overall health. Chances are, you’re probably already taking steps to eat a healthier diet. But what may not know is, eating healthier locally grown food is becoming much easier, thanks to urban vertical farming.
Vertical farming is one of the fastest-growing trends in agriculture. If this concept is new to you, basically, it involves growing food in a controlled environment, using multiple levels of vertical growing space. The technique allows farmers to grow more food in a small amount of space, all year long, using fewer resources.
That sounds pretty cool, but how can it provide health benefits for you and your family? Actually, there are several ways! The most important are fresher produce, greater availability, less pollution, and fewer chemicals in your food. Let’s dive into all of this in more detail.
Of course, we all want to be eating the freshest food possible. Not only does it taste better, but it’s also more nutritious.
One of the greatest advantages of vertical farming is that it allows food to be grown anywhere, even in places with a high population density and minimal land available. In cities where the demand for fresh food is at a premium due to minimal space for conventional crops, vertical farming makes large amounts of fresh food easily available.
This is a big deal for large urban areas where food has to be imported from other countries. This usually requires long-term storage which degrades nutrition and flavor.
When food is grown close to where it will be used, it’s spared the degrading processes of shipping and refrigeration. Artificial preservatives, such as wax coating, are no longer needed. And, since the consumer is purchasing the freshest produce possible, it will stay fresher and more nutritious for longer after purchase, too.
Improved urban availability is one of the greatest benefits of vertical farming. Although setting up a vertical farm can be expensive upfront, it makes a lot of sense for areas with a high population density and very little land to farm.
Greater availability ties right in with fresher produce because it converts urban food deserts into productive food farms. But what is a food desert? Well, any neighborhood, rural or urban, that doesn’t have easy access to affordable, fresh food is a food desert.
Another benefit of improved availability of fresh produce is that it allows businesses to offer the product without having to pay astronomical shipping costs. The increased efficiency of vertical farms and their close proximity to the market makes healthy food easier to access and more affordable to everyone.
Not only that, but one of the greatest advantages of vertical farming is the fact that it’s not dependent on good weather. Vertical farms can grow consistent, high-quality crops year-round without worrying about adverse weather conditions. This gives consumers access to locally grown, fresh food any time of year.
Cost and degraded nutrition aren’t the only detrimental effects of shipping food over long distances. Conventionally grown food often travels a thousand miles or more to get to market, often on semi trailer trucks.
According to World Watch, conventional food distribution systems use up to 17 times more fuel and emit up to 17 times more CO2 into the environment than locally grown food. In some areas, replacing imported food with locally grown food would save nearly 50.000 metric tons of transport-related emissions. That’s equal to taking 16,191 cars off the road.
So, how does this relate to your health? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution is a leading health risk that contributes to 3.7 million deaths every year around the globe. They report that poor air quality can cause chronic and acute respiratory disease, lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
Urban areas are more likely to have air quality issues due to increased traffic and industrial areas. However, these same communities provide excellent locations for vertical farms. For example, in large metropolitan areas, unused warehouse spaces are being converted into an urban vertical farm.
These warehouses are often in abandoned industrial areas where urban farms provide a welcome transformation for the local community. They may even improve the air quality in those areas. At the very least, they reduce the distance and number of trucks on the road, which is beneficial to everyone’s health.
Not only is produce grown in vertical farms locally grown, fresher, and better for our air quality, it’s also grown without pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals. Vertical farms are housed in a controlled environment using hydroponic growing methods and biological pest control. There’s no need to contaminate the crops with toxic chemicals.
In the US, millions of pounds of pesticides and herbicides are dumped into the environment every year. And, although there are rules regulating the use of these chemicals, they fall short in a number of areas.
Specifically, the EPA regulates the use of these chemicals individually, so there’s no limit to the number of individual chemicals that can be applied to growing food.
We also know that these chemicals can have cumulative effects on the body. Everyone processes these chemicals differently and detoxifies them at different speeds. For some people, these toxins remain in the body for years.
Perhaps even worse, these toxins could be harmful to unborn babies in the womb. Studies have also found glyphosate (the main ingredient in a popular herbicide) in breast milk and baby formula products, which further increases the risk to babies’ developing bodies after birth.
Wrapping Things Up
While we certainly can go a long way toward improving our health by purchasing only organic food, the local availability and increased productivity potential of vertical farms make them an even better option. They can produce as much as 10 times the amount of food in the same amount of space as conventional agriculture. As agriculture technology continues to advance, vertical farms will be able to improve production and efficiency even more, which increases the health benefits for all of us, too.