The Future Is In Indoor Farming

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Tomatoes ripening on hanging stalk in greenhouse, Industrial greenhouse to grow tomatoes.

Indoor farming is now a necessity. For the last 12,000 years, with the end of the last Ice Age, we have been farming mostly outdoors. The megafauna that often fed our hunter/gatherer ancestors disappeared with the melting ice, driven to extinction by climate change, and not from overhunting from hominids, as had been previously proposed. Attuned to the rhythms of the seasons, these early agricultural societies grew with their crops. They knew drought, plague, pestilence and flood along the way, but overall we were able to support ever larger populations.

Before There Was Farming At All

In 10,000 BC, there were only an estimated 4 million people on earth. None of them were Long Islanders, since it was still being formed as sand and rock washed out from the melting glaciers. Going back 70,000 years, during a period known as the Toba Catastrophe, it is estimated that in the aftermath of a super volcano in Sumatra, the human population globally dipped to between just 1000 and 10,000 individuals. For really all of our pre-history, our existence on this planet has been quite tenuous.

With the fading of the Ice Age, though, the hunter-gatherers started, to become farmers, and the human population exploded. Because of it, we have reached a global population of 8 billion in just 12,000 years. Civilization, industrialization, globalization — the transformation of the planet has been rapid, dramatic, and almost unthinkable.

Why We Need To Convert to Indoor Farming: Industrial Pollution By Big Ag

The cost of industrial farming and by extension civilization itself is immense, and in itself makes the case for indoor farming at scale. Our soil, water, and air have all been fouled beyond our capacity to remediate any time soon. We can’t keep going about food production as we have, making it all worse. The earth and our fellow creatures are at stake.

Indoor Farming — Making Farming Predictable

There is a practical reason as well to move away from traditional land-based farming and toward indoor farming. As a result of climate change, farming outdoors has become increasingly risky. Flood, fire, drought, plague. This is partly why small farmers are being driven out of business. It is hard to eke out a living from the land in the face of such mounting uncertainty. All that you may have learned about farming can’t save you when you get 10 inches of rain in a day, or none for a month.

With indoor farming, you never have to ask “Will I be able to afford fertilizer given the price of oil? Where is my water going to come from? Will I ever get my crops to market given global supply chain issues? As for industrial farming, when they aren’t despoiling our land, water, and air, they are abusing their workers and feeding us an awful diet that is eroding our health.

Making The Case For Indoor Farming — Large Scale Crop Failures

The peach harvest in Georgia is all but ruined after a series of late freezes. The Central Valley of California, the agricultural powerhouse of California, and this country, is being roasted by an historic heat dome, to the point where we will not only see major crop failures, but lasting changes in its ecology. This does not bode well for the pollinators. I will note that the wide use of pesticides such as neonicotinoids through the Central Valley decimated the monarch population on the West Coast, so now there will be that much fewer.

Making The Investment in Indoor Farming

Indoor farming is flat out a necessity. It won’t be better next year, or the year after, or within the next 30 years, if we are at all able to halt, let alone reverse what human activity has done to Nature. So what are we to do? We need to grow indoors and local. Hydroponics, rooftop gardens, greenhouses, automated vertical farming or “stacked agriculture.” The growing instability of our climate is forcing this change upon us in fact. A head of lettuce shouldn’t have to travel 3000 miles to our salad bowl.

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Indoor Lettuce Farming

What food we find on the shelves, processed, laden with sugars, has effectively turned every community in our country into a “food desert” defined here as

geographic areas where residents’ access to affordable, healthy food options (especially fresh fruits and vegetables) is restricted or nonexistent due to the absence of grocery stores within convenient traveling distance.”

Today the grocery store itself is a kind of food desert due to the industrialization of food. In the face of this, we need to grow our food locally. Hydroponics can produce crops using but 5% of the water, a small fraction of the fertilizer, and little in the way of pesticides. Indoors we can optimize the growing conditions, and do something farmers have never been able to do: Ignore the weather reports. Here is a farm/restaurant in Iceland that grows 18% of the country’s tomatoes. And they are perfect. What if farming could be made reliable in this increasingly uncertain age?

Can Indoor Farming Actually Scale?

You may be saying now that it was large scale agriculture that made a population of 8 billion possible. How could we ever move away from that? Obviously, we would need a broad and massive effort to transition from traditional large scale farming. We did it before though. The Victory Garden, established during WWII, within three years produced 40% of the country’s fruits and vegetables. Eleanor Roosevelt planted one on The White House Lawn in 1943. We did it before, we can do it again.

I am arguing that increasingly we have no choice but to move indoors. Small farmers ought to be supported as they move to indoor growing. Their land, now fallow, could be replanted for, say, carbon credits. We are very short on native habitat too. That land could then be healed. We should also be willing to put invasive plants and animals on the menu as well.

A sustainable Long Island begins with our ability to feed ourselves reliably. Relying on industrial food production and distribution is increasingly risky, and there is no counting on the industry to be environmentally responsible. The Gulf of Mexico is dead, and 10% of the nitrogen in those waters are from Tyson’s chicken farms along The Mississippi.

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Toxic algae also known as red tide causes tremendous amounts of fish to wash up dead on Fort Myers Beach and other west coast cities in Florida.

We could further expand the conversation about how our appetite for meat has been particularly destructive environmentally throughout the globe, as the rain forests are burned for grazing cattle. Here’s hoping that better vegetable production will help us eat less meat. In any case, we can no longer be consumers downing what is offered, but producers who know what they are eating. Right now on Long Island, most of our food is trucked in. It really shouldn’t be that way.

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