Friday, April 4, 2014

5 New Solutions For Growing Healthy Produce Indoors

Posted: 04 Apr 2014 02:48 PM PDT

An increasing number of people are moving into urban environments and away from traditional agriculture. As a consequence, those who have a mind for self-sufficiency can find themselves falling short. Storable foods are of course an important part of every emergency prepper's pantry, but storable foods are not a sound long-term solution that contain optimal nutrition.

Even produce from farmers markets and store-bought organic food will lose peak freshness faster than one might imagine. Alanna Ketler from Collective-Evolution explains:
Most people do not realize that vegetables will lose about half of their nutrients within the first week of being picked. The food that you are getting from the supermarket will not be as nutritionally rich as the food you are growing yourself and consuming immediately after harvesting. Imagine how much more fresh and alive this food tastes. If you have or have ever had a garden I'm sure you have certainly noticed a difference. (Source)

Nothing can beat growing your own fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. But it is quite a challenge for those with limited space; not everyone can afford acres of land to become a full-fledged farmer. Then, of course, are the climate considerations that inhibit year-round growing in most places across the planet.

However, several high-tech solutions are becoming available for city dwellers, or those who have a less-than-green thumb. As food prices surge due to climatological and economic factors, there never has been a better time to find ways of becoming self-sufficient at a low cost. It's a movement toward becoming the ultimate locavore.

The following inventions offer an exciting way to have fresh produce year-round ... right in your own kitchen, while also presenting a potential reduction in overall cost.

Urban Cultivator

This is a hydroponic system that is currently in use both professionally and in personal homes. One model, as seen in the short promo below, is roughly the same size as a dishwasher and is set up in a similar manner, according to the site's design specs. By setting the perfect level of humidity and temperature, it's as simple as adding a 100% organic food solution to be able to grow a wide range of pesticide and chemical free produce in your indoor garden. Visit the site here.

For restaurateurs, here is what the commercial model looks like:


Using aeroponics, GrowCubes offer efficient indoor growing for a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, using 95 percent less water, with an added built-in resistance to diseases and pests. A software program underpins the system, offering a detailed Internet-connected analysis and customization platform to obtain and fulfill the optimal level of nutrients and maintenance. A coming Kickstarter program will focus on bringing this system to market later in the year.

Click and Grow Smart Farm

This is a another concept that is heavily invested in the ideas surrounding the Internet of Farming. The Click and Grow system is actually an expandable series of "smart pots" that can grow produce, as well as flowers. It begins by providing soil that remains in proper nutrient and pH balance throughout the growth of the plant. As they point out, the constant watering in traditional potted plants actually leaches away nutrients, so the addition of proper water management increases efficiency and production. This demo shows the process.

Kitchen Nano Garden

This is a concept being developed by Hyundai. It is roughly the size of a refrigerator and employs a similar method of hydroponic growing as seen in the Urban Cultivator. It controls the amount of light, nutrient supply and water to create the optimal efficiency for growing. The prototype won the 2010 Fast Company Idea Award and also doubles as a natural air purifier. While still only a concept, it is exciting to see a company with the resources of Hyundai working on this technology.


While the four items above appeal to modern sensibilities, some of us still would like to retain a bit of the natural even if we can't get our hands dirty on a traditional farm. The UrbGarden is designed to be a vertical herb garden with an integrated worm farm for easy composting. The system produces a natural fertilizer which is then fed back through a drip system. Its open-window design offers an element of harvesting, as the grow trays are removed and re-potted as needed.

It is worth mentioning that in a grid-down situation, the four "high-tech solutions" offered here will become virtually useless as they rely on a power source, unless you of course have solar. And none of these systems should be seen as direct replacements for developing a solid relationship with your local farmer, farmers market, or development of community gardens. However, these solutions do enable people to get away from commercial food and the toxic packaging that its often wrapped in, while making the act of farming as easy and hassle free for as many people as possible.

The Difference Between Heirlooms, Hybrids, and GMOs

Posted: 04 Apr 2014 09:41 AM PDT

Know Your Produce - Perfect Produce Is Unnatural

There is nothing quite like the taste of a fresh fruit or vegetable straight from the garden. To the eye of the gardener, this vegetable picked ripe off of the vine is perfect. They nurtured it, carefully tended to it, and then finally, get to enjoy the fruit of their labors. However, compare this vegetable to one at the grocery store and it is suddenly asymmetrical, small, not candy apple red, and even has, gasp!, a brown spot.

To gardeners, this poses the question, "What is it about those grocery store vegetables that make them all so perfectly colored, perfectly big, and perfectly symmetrical? And, how did they become the standard of how a vegetable should look?" The truth of the matter is that they look perfect because they are unnatural.

In order to understand the differences between fresh produce from a garden and what you see on the average grocery store shelf, you've got to look far beyond what is apparent on the surface. In fact, it all comes down to the minutest material of the plant, it's DNA. As we have gained an understanding of genetics, we've also learned how to manipulate the genetic material of the food we grow, for good, and for bad. Let's take a look.

Heirloom peppers from a garden


We'll start with what's natural, the way fruits and vegetables have been grown and propagated for thousands of years. It's a very simple concept: you save the seeds of a fruit or vegetable with favorable characteristics, (typically color, shape, size, and flavor), and plant them year after year. Other than selecting which fruit or vegetable seeds to save, the seeds are in no way manipulated. The plants are allowed to open pollinate and ripen in their own time. Today, we refer to these plants as heirlooms. Since seeds from heirloom plants can be harvested and planted year after year, a farmer or gardener never has to purchase those particular seeds again. In a sense, it's the ultimate sustainable agriculture practice.
Figure 1. If an heirloom plant is allowed to open pollinate with other plants of the same variety, the seeds will produce a fruit identical to the parent plant. Source: Kerry Soltis


Heirlooms, however, like all things good and natural, are not perfect. They have a relatively small gene pool and typically lack disease resistance. As we began to learn more about the genetics of these heirlooms, certain varieties were cross-pollinated in order to create new varieties with disease resistance and traits that would enable them to grow in a wide variety of climates. In other words, rather than allowing the plants to open pollinate, two different varieties were purposely crossed to create a plant with specific traits, a hybrid.
Figure 2. If you cross-pollinate two plants, each with a dominant favorable trait, the resulting fruit will bear both of those traits. Source: Kerry Soltis
These sorts of hybrids are a great blessing to farmers and gardeners who live in hot, humid, or very dry environments. They enable more people to grow their own food, decrease their pesticide usage, and live more sustainable lifestyles.

The one major downfall of these hybrids is that their seeds do not necessarily result in plants that are identical to the parent plant, so seeds cannot be saved.

Figure 3. This punnet square illustrates a cross between two hybrid plants. If you were to cross two heat tolerant, flavorful varieties, only half of the resulting plants would be identical to the parent plant. Source: Kerry Soltis
For a gardener or small farmer, growing certain hybrid varieties is not a bad thing, by any means. However, in the mid 1900s, the agriculture industry began taking hybridization to the next level by selecting for traits that would benefit their industry, and thus, their profits. Size, shelf life, high yields, and aesthetics quickly became the top priority for food production. Why not right? Who wouldn't want large quantities of produce on grocery store shelves? It all sounds great until you realize what traits are compromised to get these varieties—mainly nutrition and taste. Researchers often refer to the decrease in nutrient content when high yielding plant varieties are developed as the Genetic Dilution Effect.

Studies have found that nutrient content in many of the nation's main food crops have dramatically decreased over the last century. For example, the protein in wheat, barley, and corn has decreased by approximately 40% since the 1940s. The calcium in broccoli has decreased by more than 50%. Furthermore, since these hybrid plants produce high yields of larger fruits and vegetables, more nutrient rich fertilizers must be applied to support their growth, resulting in more nutritional losses. Raspberries, for example, when fertilized with large amounts of phosphates, will produce double the yield, yet their mineral content decreases by 20-30%. So essentially, our grocery stores are packed with an abundance of big, beautiful fruits and vegetables, but their nutritional value has never been lower. And don't forget taste. Taste isn't typically on the high priority list when it comes to creating hybrid varieties for mass production.

Figure 4. When plants are hybridized for mass production, aesthetics, yield, and shelf life are often selected for over nutrition and taste. Source: Kerry Soltis

Hopefully it's starting to become apparent that when it comes to perfection, it's all in the eye of the beholder. That home-grown tomato with a little brown spot is probably starting to become much more appealing than those "perfect" grocery store varieties that lack nutrition and flavor.


The scary truth is that produce manipulation does not end with these tasteless hybrids. Here in the United States more genetically modified (GMOs) crops are being planted each year. These plants are created using biotechnology. Techniques such as, splicing, microinjection, viral carriers, and bacterial carriers create plant varieties that could never occur naturally. These methodologies give food scientists the ability to introduce favorable genes of completely unrelated species into food producing plants. Unfavorable genes can now also be silenced. Many of these food crops, particularly corn and soy, are ending up in common food products. These food products are not required to be labeled as containing GMOs, so there is no way to avoid them other than buying foods with an organic label.

Not only is this process unnatural, it also has the potential to be extremely dangerous to our health and the environment. A frequently used method for creating pest resistant plant varieties involves artificially inserting a toxin carrying gene from a soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, into plant DNA. The resulting plants then produce that toxin, which in turn will kill the larvae of their pests. It is currently unclear how this toxin affects humans. In a similar process, soy beans are genetically engineered so that they can tolerate high levels of pesticide application. As a result more toxic pesticides are being applied to these crops.

We shouldn't be messing with Mother Nature though; she'll always find a way around our ingenious ideas. Since the onset of this mass pesticide use, superweeds and superbugs have emerged that have adapted to the pesticides, so that they are in no way effected by them. Unfortunately these superweeds and superbugs have the potential to spread into our natural ecosystems and severely disrupt ecological balances.

Figure 5. DNA from a completely non-related organism is inserted into plant DNA so that it produces toxins, making the plant pest resistant. Source: Kerry Soltis
It's all pretty scary stuff, especially when you consider that Monsanto, the major U.S. company behind all of this genetic engineering, has gone so far as to patent their genomic creations. Farmers who elect to plant GMO crops must sign an agreement that they will not save seeds. Even worse, as wind, insects, and birds spread the seeds and pollen of GMO crops, heirloom crops become contaminated with the GMO DNA. Heirloom farmers have no way of knowing that their crops have been contaminated until they plant the compromised seeds. Monsanto has such a stronghold on the industry that when this occurs the heirloom farmers are sued for infringement on patent laws rather than Monsanto being penalized for contaminating the crops of these farmers.

Consumers, gardeners, and local farmers hold the power when it comes to fighting back against food modification. If we change our perception of the perfect produce and begin selecting fruits and vegetables that are locally grown, nutritious, and flavorful, agriculture will have no choice but to respond accordingly. It's Darwinism at the grocery store level. We get to decide what is fit to stock the shelves and what isn't!

No comments:

Post a Comment