Did you ever do that experiment in school where you sprout a seed in a petri dish and watch it grow? Your fourth grade teacher probably used it to teach you about what plants need to stay alive. Turns out when you take that concept and scale it up to a scale that feeds the world’s population, the inputs needed to feed us are nothing short of staggering. 

Water

Agriculture is the #1 user of fresh water globally. In conventional soil agriculture, most of that water is wasted via runoff and evaporation. In fact the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) estimates that roughly 60% of water that is pumped or channeled for agricultural purposes never even has the chance to make it to a plant. 

Excessive water use is a major environmental issue, with groundwater depletion occurring at alarming rates due to pumping for agricultural use, both in the United States and globally. 

One of the main attractions of hydroponic agriculture, is it’s water efficiency. As an example; hydroponic lettuce has been found to be about 14 times more water efficient than conventionally grown lettuce. 

Chemicals

In our last blog we talked about the impact of agriculture on soil health, and the risk of nutrient depletion it can create. In mono-culture farms (which are the vast majority, at least in the United States) nutrient levels in soil have to be managed with chemical fertilizers which, along with run off water, often finds its way into both ground and surface water sources. 

Then of course there’s the chemicals that get sprayed onto our food which can, and do, have adverse effects on human health. But this isn’t just a personal health issue. Chemicals used for industrial agricultural purposes have a large number of negative effects on local and global ecology, such as: declining bee populations, increased cancer rates due to pesticide exposure and coastal “dead zones” due to nitrogen fertilizer runoff, just to name a few.

One of the many benefits of growing our own food locally mean that we can see, and in many cases control, the chemicals that are used.

 

Packaging and Transport

Food produced non-locally must be packaged, refrigerated and transported to its final destination – passing through many different sets of hands and using lots of resources in the process.

  • The average American produces over 1,500 lbs. of waste a year, much of which comes from packaging. Packaging has both a production impact (plastics are usually petroleum-based, and paper and cardboard result in deforestation) as well as an end-of-life impact (ending up in a landfill and emitting harmful chemicals and gases).

  • The Worldwatch Institute estimates that “food now travels between 1,500 and 2,500 miles from farm to table, and as much as 25 percent farther than two decades ago.” Trucks use diesel, ships require heavy fuel-oil, and refrigeration requires electricity. All of this consumes (usually non-renewable) energy and affects the environment negatively.

Growing your own food locally reduces both packaging-waste (it falls to pretty much zero) and food miles (from over 1,500 miles to perhaps 15 feet).