The Importance of Sustainable and Local Farms
We all are familiar with the local and sustainable food movement. It has provided consumers with more healthful choices in the food and beverage arenas, while promoting local industry. Many local farms are taking an “artisanal” approach toward their crop generation. These methods are more beneficial to the environment and typically improve the quality of the produce. Buying local also helps the environment by reducing the carbon footprint of the food that travels to your plate. The movement shows no sign of slowing and at this point, it is becoming less of a novelty and more of a fixture in households and restaurants alike. The increase in demand for produce like this has also helped to introduce and foster innovative ways to make local farming accessible to the masses.
Hyper Drive Local
Of course, we all know about local farming, but have you heard of hyper-local farming? It sounds like it could be something from the space age and believe it or not, in some ways it is. We define hyper-local farming as produce being raised and cropped at the source of where it will be consumed, like a restaurant, or within the vicinity of the source where it will be consumed. Densely developed metropolitan areas have begun to develop farm plots on building rooftops as well as in the front yards of houses and some building spaces where space is available. The rooftop produce travels within a very short radius before it is ultimately consumed, qualifying it as hyper-local.
When rooftops and yards have not been available, creative minds have engineered ways to grow produce through the method of hydroponics. Hydroponics uses nutrient-rich water to feed and grow plants. The method allows the crop to grow without ever having to be planted in soil. This is extremely advantageous to a hyper-local farmer because the crops can be grown indoors in a limited and unconventional space. What kind of space you might ask? Many restaurants who have adopted the technique display walls with fresh heads of lettuce growing from them. Other operations have used encapsulated columns, or other geometrical shapes to grow and display their crops. A startup in New York has even managed to convert decommissioned shipping containers into hydroponic farms. Stanley Kubrick, eat your heart out!
But That’s Not All!
Aquaponics is yet another step in the diversification of hyper-local farming and what can be produced. Aquaponics adds a fishery to the closed water system that hydroponics use. The fish produce waste which microbes convert into nitrates and rich fertilizer. The nutrients and fertilizer are then carried through the water cycle that feeds the plants. In turn, the plants filter or “clean” the water which returns to the fish. There are a tremendous number of benefits to aquaponics, including an easier to manage eco-system compared to hydroponics and aquaculture (fisheries); best of all, the farmers can harvest both the plants and fish!
Navigating to the Future
Hydroponics and aquaponics are still highly-specialized processes that require experts to build and maintain the systems. And they require a sizable investment to initiate. However, there’s something to be said for being able to showcase the greens being cultivated for your operation. It’s a fantastic interaction piece for guests, and it contributes to a narrative that guests are seeking more and more– an operation that is sensitive to the environment, takes local sourcing seriously, and places a value on sustainable foods. There is no doubt that these systems offer long-term benefits to operations. It’s likely that the food and beverage industry will continue to adopt the new practice, albeit slowly, until it can become a more affordable and accessible process. It’s exciting to consider that these systems could become commonplace, allowing farms to cultivate more specialized crops on plots that would otherwise be lost to a sea of lettuce.
By: Adam Dean
Senior Associate | Management Advisory Services