Edible Magazine Covers Indoor Ag-Con

We’re delighted that Edible Reno Tahoe covered Indoor Ag-Con in its winter issue, which was entirely dedicated to indoor growing.  Here’s an excerpt from their cover article:

“Imagine farming in a place where rainfall and sunshine are irrelevant, toxic pesticides are unnecessary, and the crop yield always is abundant. Where is this 21st-century utopia? A growing number of agricultural entrepreneurs say it’s indoors.

Indoor farming operations are flourishing in urban areas such as Chicago, where fresh herbs and salad greens grow in a 90,000-square-foot warehouse near the Chicago Midway International airport. At the South Pole, the National Science Foundation has its own hydroponic farm. And arid Israel — where land is limited, population dense, and political risk high — is becoming a worldwide model for nontraditional farming methods.

And by planting crops vertically, growers everywhere are packing in more plants per acre than with field farms — a great incentive for densely populated areas.

Indoor agriculture is about growing edibles in controlled environments, be it greenhouses, hoop houses, or warehouses. Within these indoor confines, growers use a variety of methods and technologies. Hydroponics involves growing crops directly in water, while aeroponics operations suspend plants in the air and simply mist the roots with a mineral-rich liquid solution. Aquaculture “grows” fish rather than plants.

Identity crisis

Here in the United States, the indoor agriculture trend is gaining considerable attention, but, like a teenager, it struggles with its identity. Mention hydroponics and many folks envision clandestine indoor marijuana-growing operations. Indeed, a great amount of valuable agricultural intel has been gleaned from such ventures. Many would argue that “a plant is a plant.” Some new indoor farmers are distancing themselves from their pot-growing counterparts due to inherent public relations challenges, while others keep a foot in both camps.

“Because indoor agriculture is such a young industry — and naturally entrepreneurial — the definition is broad and changing,” says Nicola Kerslake of Newbean Capital, a Reno-based venture capital firm.

Kerslake founded the Indoor Agriculture Conference here in Nevada. Entering its third year in 2015, the event brings together influential scientists, farmers, and entrepreneurs.

Supplementation or replacement?

Kerslake firmly believes that indoor agriculture isn’t about replacing traditional agriculture, but rather supplementing it.

“It offers another tool that farmers can use [in meeting] the challenge of husbanding resources, especially water, and maximizing yield each year,” she says. “Indoor agriculture typically uses a fraction of the water and pesticides used in field farms, and indoor farmers use technology to control when produce is harvested, meaning less food waste.”

Richard Jasoni, an associate research ecologist in the Desert Research Institute’s Earth and Ecosystem Sciences division in Reno, agrees.

“More efficient farming practices are important in Nevada, mainly from the perspective of water saving,” Jasoni says. “Indoor agriculture can help with water saving; there also are some (practices) in the [outdoor fields] that can be done to conserve water. There is certainly a mix of ways to make agricultural practices — indoor and outdoor — more efficient.”

Jasoni recently took his research out of the lab and into the classroom as part of DRI’s GreenPower K-12 Outreach Program. Four microgreen growing systems have been installed in Earl Wooster High School’s aquaponics laboratory. Microgreens are plants that are harvested shortly after the first true leaf sprouts.

“They are gaining popularity in many restaurants,” he says, “and provide a perfect short-term, hands-on agricultural experience.”

Equally valuable, Jasoni says, is that the students at the Reno high school get to apply scientific concepts and develop inquiry-based investigations.”

You can read the article in full at the Edible Reno Tahoe website.

Featured image on blog archive page is courtesy of Edible Reno Tahoe