Thursday, April 07, 2016

No solution to climate change, but delicious

Every time I make a run to Costco, I buy a bag of these. So do a lot of people. They are tasty, durable, and colorful. I wonder where they come from? There's a Canadian connection somewhere, since the packaging is bilingual -- French and English. But they claim to be a product of the USA and California grown at that.

It turns out the Oppy stands for the Oppenheimer Group. This agricultural conglomerate owns SunSelect, a greenhouse grower whose facilities in Tehachapi, CA are the source of the peppers.

Oppy has been in the sustainable agriculture business for decades. But apparently there is a new wave of indoor agriculture coming soon according to an article in the environmental magazine Grist, which bills itself as "a source of intelligent, irreverent environmental news and commentary."

Will climate change move agriculture indoors? And will that be a good thing?
As climate change does its thing to America, what it is going to do to the nation’s food supply is still an open question. Will California’s Central Valley, which grows a third of the produce eaten in the U.S., wither into a vegetable ghost town? Will other locations pick up the slack? Or will agriculture just take a look at the harsher droughts, crazier storms, and prolific insects that the future has in store and move indoors?

... In an indoor farm, water doesn’t inconveniently evaporate. LED lights can lengthen the hours of sunlight so plants can grow faster. CO2 levels can be tweaked. Even as the weather outside goes haywire, plants farmed indoors can live out an optimized version of the weather that they coevolved with — the weather of the past. The best weather of the past. ...

Writer Heather Smith describes the projects of one indoor agricultural start-up which achieves many efficiencies, yet still finds itself producing for niche markets of the affluent. There are still transportation costs and fuel costs -- the problems that have always made availability of good food about so much more than quantities grown.

But ending hunger is about more than just growing more food: It’s also about distributing the food we already grow more fairly, eating lower on the food chain, and cutting down on food that is spoiled or wasted. Each of these could have just as much of an effect as boosting production.

It’s also doubtful whether indoor agriculture can ever be more energy-efficient than just regular farming – even if renewable energy is involved. ... it is not so much about feeding the world as it is about bringing salad to people who feel that they deserve it in the dead of winter, but feel guilty about having it trucked to them all the way from California.

I say this with the utmost lack of judgment, as someone who, while Superstorm Nemo bore down on Boston, walked home from the market guiltily cradling a bag of arugula. I know that my ancestors lived all winter on turnips and potatoes (and, let’s be honest, probably booze). They survived. I would survive, too....

For all my reservations about it, indoor agriculture is ... exciting. The science is interesting. Last I checked, we used a lot of energy to make a lot of things I think are a big waste of carbon, like fancy sweatpants, frozen waffles, and the upcoming Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. America is going to blow its collective electrons, unabashedly, on all of these things; why not blow them on a salad?

My peppers may not be helping combat carbon emissions as much as some visionaries have hoped; but like Smith, I'm fond of them.

1 comment:

Rain Trueax said...

My husband has been a consulting engineer for start-up companies and his latest is a product that reduces the need for as much water and helps plants survive transplanting. It's going through testing right now in a huge California greenhouse operation. A lot is going on that will change things and with a booming world population, that's a good thing.

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