There has been a lot of news lately about companies making significant investments in hydroponic farming, and more specifically vertical farming. In fact Walmart just announced a $400 million dollar investment in a vertical farm company (Plenty) in an effort to “bring the farm closer to the store”.

This announcement is one of many including large equity firms seeking investments in this “new” technology. It is not really new and in fact has been around for many years. However more recently the demand to continue to feed the world with the ever limited availability of land for field grown products has amped up the interest. The long use of synthetic fertilizer and pesticides used in soil based farming has led to nutrient runoff polluting our waterways and leaving soil devoid of the very nutrients needed to ensure healthy crops. Indoor vertical farms are seen as the solution to limited land availability, excess water use, pollution and an ease to a supply chain that often must import “fresh” product from hundreds if not thousands of miles away. Not to mention the attraction of year round production. Seen in this light I understand the interest.

However like any system, there are considerations that must be taken into account. Notwithstanding the initial expense of these systems but there are critics that point out that although vertical farms may solve one problem they certainly are not the overriding solution to all. Take for example the fact that they do not even use the one resource that is totally free. That being the sun. Instead there is a sea of lights utilizing significant amounts of electricity to power the growing systems. The data so far points to the fact that these systems have a significant carbon footprint.

So far the majority of the systems are being used to grow greens like lettuce. I chuckled as one critic pointed out that we are using all our intellectual creativity to create a system that grows lettuce that is essentially crunchy water and has the nutrients of a Kleenex (Michael W. Hamm Michigan State University Director of the center for Regional Food Systems).

I do believe that plant physiology is not that simple. The magic that takes place between the roots of plants and the soil microbes present in fertile soil is still not fully understood. Moreover, I agree with Gabe Brown in what he calls plant intelligence in that a plant will only produce what it needs. Often called the conservation of resources. Ironically it is the stress on  a plant the signals the plant to produce various nutrients. Many of these nutrients are antioxidants that we benefit from when we consume the plant. In a perfect indoor growing system where is the stress?

We grow the plants that make up the base of all of our Tea’d Greens in the field. And like every dedicated farmer we work really hard at trying to understand the nature of soil so that we can continually enhance the fertility and tilth. This is an ongoing process.

Yes we could grow our plants to some degree hydroponically. In fact I have a lot of experience in this area which I will speak to in a later blog. But suffice to say, the complexity of nature, the soil and plants creates a curiosity in me that can only be quelled by immersing my hands in the very soil that I know I have so much more that nature can teach me. All the while striving to grow the most nutrient dense plants I can. working with it not against it.

Hydroponics vs Field

on August 09, 2022


1 comment
by Michael Mooney on December 05, 2022

I agree. There are inherent complexities in the soil and associated micronutrients and mineral complexes that simply cannot be fully replicated with synthetic processes.

“Nature knows best” certainly applies here. We must, instead, understand the root cause “issues” in our food supply chains (Industrial era onwards) and our approach to living, housing, work and so on. I have yet to taste something grown in the aforementioned methods (hydroponics etc) that taste like the real deal out of the garden. I can, of course, suppress my tastebuds with loads of junk food and not notice the difference! While my taste buds aren’t all that formal with a robust scientific method, they are like the proverbial canary in the coal mine: they are pointing to something amiss.

Yes to the sun. Rain. Naturally amended soil (organic fertilizers etc ). And husbandry of the land that honors time-tested and true methods. Yes to research and new things provided that they honor natural ways. All to say – good post!


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