Part 1: Hydro-what?
Posted: 2:45PM August 21st, 2014 | Comments
Submitted by Hailey Morey
Projected to reach a population of 9.3 billion by 2050 (Searchinger), the Earth’s carrying capacity will far exceed its growing human population if agriculture continues to produce on the same land. Although more land is needed to accommodate the needs of this next generation, there has been a decline in farmland year after year. 3,000 acres of farmland are lost each day because some of the most arable lands are located right next to major metropolitan areas (“Land Use Overview”). Food security is key for a civilization to survive but land availability for fertile agriculture is shrinking. One solution?
Hydroponics is the act of growing plants without the use of soil. This is made possible by submerging the roots in a liquid based nutrient solution allowing the plant to get all essential nutrients (Jensen). There are several hydroponic methods; the multi-flow system being the most common hydroponic system which works by planting vegetables in soilless buckets and flooding the buckets four times a day for an average of ten minutes. The excess water that is not absorbed by the plant roots is syphoned back out to the holding container to be reused.
You might be wondering how a plant that is not in soil can grow? Using hydroponics techniques, the roots are supported by alternative materials such as rockwool, lava rocks, or sand. Growers place UV lights above the plant buckets to act as a viable replacement for solar rays.
Rockwool is rock that has been heated and then spun to create compact material that will hold water even after it has been syphoned out.
Another popular hydroponics technique is the B-Pod system, a round structure lined by plants. B pod systems work by rotating plants around a UV light placed in the middle of the circular structure. Growers also place a tub filled with a nutrient based liquid solution below the system to feed the plant roots daily. Leafy foods grow best in the B-Pod system because vegetables like tomatoes or strawberries are too fragile and could be crushed by the rotation of growing upside-down. Hydroponics is a proven way to conserve water, soil, and land space. Hydroponics has been used for decades but is becoming increasingly popular and starting to evolve with new technology.
So, is this happening in Wisconsin?
Students from Oregon High School (OHS) and Oregon Middle School (OMS) in Oregon, Wisconsin purchased three hydroponic systems in the past year from a $10,000 grant they received from America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education Program. Students successfully grew mixed lettuces in a B-Pod system and cherry tomatoes in a multi-flow system. This was an exciting opportunity for many students to see the food being transported first hand to their cafeteria. Both hydroponics systems in Oregon, WI are set on timers that regularly apply the nutrient based solution. This allows students to focus more on on applying the right nutrient content and balancing the pH to prevent bacteria contamination of the containers (De Laruelle, 2014). Jillian Beaty, OHS agriculture education teacher who purchased the systems stated,
“I guess the big interest in incorporating more hydroponics, in alternative methods, in producing foods into agriculture classes is first, we are a fairly urban school and the odds of my students going back to the farm is slim. But I want to find ways for students to engage what agriculture is in a way that might be something they could do on their own.”
Beaty is hopeful that this will create a push for cities to buy locally. She thinks that there is great potential in this new market.
Hydroponics allows each plant to grow on its own while conserving energy to be invested into plant growth. Plants will no longer have to compete with weeds and other organisms if grown hydroponically. Even though a hydroponic system has high upfront expenses, it is often a good long-term investment because the system can grow anywhere - from a backyard,to a basement, or an apartment, and even a desert (“Hydroponics”). This is a perfect growing technique for both the city dweller and country folk.
Dr. Megan Clark, Australian commissioner and Chief Executive of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) stated,
“Smart, sustainable food production requires that we upgrade our knowledge of water, soils, energy, meteorology, emissions, agricultural production and forests, and that we understand how these elements work together as a system.” (“World Scientists,” 2012).
With limited space, utilizing hydroponics as an alternative farming method is an answer. Cities are continuing to grow and viable farmland is shrinking so urban farming seems like a pretty good option.
This is a two-part series – check out part 2!
De Laruelle, Scott. "Sowing Without Soil." The Oregon Observer. The Oregon Observer, 27 Apr. 2014. Web. 15 July 2014.
"Hydroponics." Mission 2014: Feeding the World. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Web. 16 July 2014.
Jensen, Merle. "What Is Hydroponics?" Controlled Environment Agriculture Center. Arizona Board of Regents. Web. 14 July 2014.
"Land Use Overview." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 14 July 2014.
Searchinger, Tim, Craig Hanson, Janet Ranganathan, Brian Lipinski, Richard Waite, Robert Winterbottom, Ayesha Dinshaw, and Ralph Heimlich. "The Great Balancing Act." Installment 1 of “Creating a Sustainable Food Future” The Great Balancing Act. World Resources Institute. World Resources Institute. Web. 14 July 2014.
"World Scientists Define United Approach to Tackling Food Insecurity." Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security. University of Copenhagen, 28 Mar. 2012. Web. 15 July 2014.