How we can increase food security in northern climates: listen first, then design
Dr. Greenhouse, Inc.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, food security exists when all people have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.
As the world’s population continues to grow, so does the need for food. Unfortunately, climate change is making it increasingly difficult to grow crops in many parts of the world. In northern climates, indoor agriculture can provide food security and sovereignty for regional communities. Farmers can control the crops’ environment by year-round indoor growing, ensuring they receive the ideal amount of light, water, and nutrients. Indoor agriculture can result in higher yields and higher-quality agricultural produce, which can supplement a community’s nutrient and calorie shortages through nutrient-dense food.
Communities, Food, and Culture
Food security is a significant concern for many communities. One way to address this issue is by working towards food sovereignty by working with local communities to identify their food diets or needs specific to the community culture and then growing crops best suited to their climate. For example, indoor agriculture can supplement the production of local food diets through successful growing methods of producing microgreens. Microgreens are incredibly nutrient dense and could help enhance the dietary needs of local communities. Indoor farms are also a source of income for farmers and could help support the indoor agriculture industry.
More than just nutrients and calories, indoor agriculture can provide a way to revive crops that may no longer grow well in a given region due to climate change. This type of agriculture can improve the quality of life for communities by growing crops that they enjoy.
Both nutritionally and economically, crops grown indoors can positively impact the northern communities in which they are located.
Using Existing Energy Sources
When growing in northern climates, one of the biggest challenges is the inconsistent availability of sunlight. In the Summer in some northern regions, you might have 24 hours of sunlight. If you’re trying to grow a crop that needs a dark period, you must find a way to provide blackout if you are in a greenhouse. The opposite is true in the winter: where you have little or no sunlight for months. During this time of the year, you will need supplemental light, regardless of the type of structure – greenhouse or indoor – you are using to grow crops.
While plentiful in metropolitan areas, natural gas is not necessarily available in northern climates. Without natural gas, these communities rely on propane and fuel oil for their energy needs. However, these energy sources are inefficient and have a large carbon footprint. Indoor agriculture can help reduce the reliance on these fossil fuels and help improve the efficiency of the community’s energy use.
The “electrification” of products, systems, and buildings can reap environmental benefits by reducing a community’s carbon footprint. This is especially true in regions that use renewable hydroelectric power plants. Northern communities have a unique opportunity to use electricity-powered lights to their energy advantage. For example, by using HPS lighting (considered wasteful in moderate climates), northern communities can use the heat from the lamps (which is typically considered “waste heat” in moderate climates) to supplement heating needs and maintain healthy plant temperatures. This practice not only reduces the overall energy consumption of the building, but it also cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions.
The northern climate conditions can also be used as an advantage in indoor agriculture. Indoor farms can become hot and humid with the heat form lighting and water vapor produced by plants. By using the cold, dry outside air, the indoor farm can be cooled and dehumidified without air conditioning.
Design for the Community
Growing indoors allows farmers to control the environment in which their crops are grown. This means that farmers can produce food year-round, regardless of what the weather is like outside.
Indoor agriculture facilities should be designed to support the community in which they are located. Smaller communities may only need small indoor farming facilities, while larger communities may require larger ones.
The goal should be to scale the indoor farming facility to the size of the community and its food production needs. By doing so, indoor agriculture can become a more economical option for northern climate communities.
We Can Do This
We must think outside the box when growing indoor crops in northern climates.
Indoor agriculture can be a viable option for communities in northern climates. By engaging with local communities, indoor farmers can understand food preferences and augment communities’ nutritional and caloric needs. And by designing facilities sized to the community’s needs and efficiently utilizing existing energy resources, indoor agriculture can remove barriers to successful food production for communities in the northern climates.