This pandemic shows that we need to invest in local agriculture to boost our supply of local, reliable food. Aquaponics, hydroponics, and controlled-environment agriculture can produce large amounts of food with minimal space and resources. These new growing methods can be placed from arid deserts to urban rooftops.
Hidden Cost of the Global Food Supply Chain
Our modern food system involves long travel distances and several steps along the supply chain. The average head of lettuce in the U.S. travels approximately 1,500 miles. Over 90% of our seafood is imported.
The coronavirus is exposing one major hidden cost of our global system: it is at risk from disruptions like pandemics, extreme weather events, military events, and economic or political upheavals. As the climate changes, these extreme events are more likely.
Many analysts agree effects of the virus could slow global economic growth and recovery from trade disputes between the U.S. and China that have hurt agricultural exports.
A University of California agricultural economist, Dan Sumner, said he expects reduced exports to places hard hit by the virus, and said loss of income in those places will further curtail export demand on a longer term.
The problem is that with a changing climate, water shortages, and growing population, there is less land to grow for more people. Deserts, freezing climates, and urban areas do not have the arable soil to grow a meaningful amount of their own food to achieve food security.
Controlled-Environment Agriculture (CEA) is the practice of raising crops in a protected, optimal environment.
Communities that have to ship in fresh food from far away could start getting local produce right from their parking lots or warehouses thanks to these shipping container farms. The 40-foot containers house hydroponic and soil-based farms that only draw on a small amount of water each day to grow produce like lettuce, strawberries, or kale.
Popping up all around the United States, these scalable farms grow far more produce than any other indoor farming solution on the market.
These growing methods maximize the amount of crops that can be produced per square area per year. Plants can be grown densely and quickly because conditions are ideal and roots are delivered exactly what they need. And controlled-environments allow for year-round production.
Economies across the globe must find ways to value the hidden benefits of local, efficient agriculture to encourage more local growing. There will always be another coronavirus-type event, let’s make sure we have a reliable supply of local food for it.
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