Future of agriculture may be found in extremes

 

 

The Chef’s Garden, in Huron, Ohio, is perhaps the most extreme example of agriculture you’ll encounter. Here, tiny vegetables, like cucamelons and miniature purple eggplants, are grown for discerning chefs in fine restaurants throughout the country. Shipped virtually anywhere in a day, these veggies carry a hefty price tag, in carbon emissions and currency, as well. However, several lessons are found here about the future of agriculture.

“We will need to produce more food in the first half of this century than we did in the previous 100 centuries combined,” says Tony Kajewski, an engineering manager at John Deere and president of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. He spoke to TechNewsWorld in 2013. That is an overarching agricultural concern. It transcends debates about GMOs, pesticides, and all manner of farming methods. Nine billion people will inhabit the planet by 2050, according to the U.N.

One way The Chef’s Garden produces its exquisite crops is through controlled environments. Hoop houses help them produce for chefs year-round. Even the seed that goes into the ground at this farm is tested and sorted for best germination. That is information that’s compiled before a single vegetable is planted, to gain efficiency and reduce waste.

Controlled Environment Agriculture can be seen as the future of local. Growing can happen in areas of demand, so shipping long distances isn’t necessary. CEA makes it possible to grow in extreme climates, and urban habitats. It also is efficient, producing in smaller spaces, and with less waste. This doesn’t only mean greenhouses, it also means indoor operations under lights. Here, growing can happen 24/7 for quick harvest. Plant beds are often stacked, leading to efficient use of space.

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Controlled Environment Agriculture often means growing indoors, under lights.

Cosmetic imperfections are one source of food waste. This sort of waste is often caused by pest damage. Inside, pests are non-existent. So, too, the use of pesticides. Money and headaches (perhaps literally) saved. Pesticide-free produce is often worth more to consumers, and, since poor market prices can also lead to food waste, that’s insurance against such problems. So, too, is local produce often worth a premium to consumers.

Mechanized harvesting can leave perfectly good produce in the field, but in a controlled environment, everything can be harvested by hand, since there’s not as much ground to cover. No produce is damaged or missed during the harvesting process.

The Chef’s Garden was born of an ordinary, and too common, tragedy: in 1983 the then-conventional vegetable farm went bankrupt and the Jones family lost all but a few acres of land. Growing highly specialized produce for chefs meant they could bring in the kind of cash they needed to sustain a business with the remaining land. A web page on CEA at Cornell University also says that it can bring diversification and expansion to family farms, allowing growing families to support adult children who want to stay in agriculture.

The Jones family also jealously guards the health of the soil. Only one-third of the farm is under cultivation at any given time; the rest is under cover crops. Cover crops are planted to reduce soil erosion, add nutrients and organic matter to soil, and conserve water during times when a particular field is resting from production. It is often said that the exportation of technology to agricultural systems in developing countries doesn’t mean GMO seed, it really means common-sense know-how like the use of cover crops. It means employing best practices to locally available resources like different crops, water, and soils, thereby allowing small, local farmers to do their part in feeding a growing world.

Wide range of smartphone apps help reduce food waste

Here’s another food waste post from the archive.

Radish_3371103037_4ab07db0bf_oAre my radishes still good? They are, but I need one more ingredient for this soup. Can I get a deal? Forget it, I just got notification of a restaurant special that’s too good to pass up. Let’s go!

Consumer smart phone apps that help prevent food waste take several different forms. They may organize pantries and grocery lists, determine if previously purchased food is still good, help with food preparation, or connect consumers with deals from retailers and restaurants.

Green Egg Shopper is an app on the iOS platform. Users create a shopping list in the app. At the store, they enter expiration dates into the app, then, they can check for items nearing expiration in their pantry any time, and plan meals accordingly. Is My Food Safe is an app for iOS or Android that answers question about best storage practices and shelf life, and provides safe preparation practices as well.

Apps that notify consumers of special offers by retailers and restaurants of perishable food need to have a local user base. In New York City, there’s PareUp, where restaurants and retailers post the availability of discounted, surplus perishables, and consumer reap the benefits. They plan to expand to twelve more cities in 2015, visit them to suggest Cincinnati! In San Francisco, Cropmobster connects an entire food production and consumption community, with items discounted, free to take, wanted, and events all part of the conversation. Ratatouille is an app for iOS that connects consumers in a 12.5 mile radius with one another to share excess produce. Or, there’s LeLoca, an app for iOS and Android that allows restaurants owners to reach potential diners in a geographic area which they control. Those potential diners have 45 minutes to get a table, and collect their discount.

Users who take advantage of these apps can both save money, and reduce food waste.

Food Cowboy enables donation of refused truckloads

 

While flannelnerd relaxes with his family, here is a post from the archives, suggested by a  recent post from foodtank.

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Big rig loads of refused food no longer go to waste with the smartphone app, Food Cowboy.

Non-profit organizations devoted to more equitable food distribution, like others, have difficulty staying on the minds of potential donors after the giving binge brought by the holidays. As said on TV, “There’s an app for that.”n this case, potential donors are truck drivers with refused loads of perishable food, say, eggplant or potatoes. “They say it should be dark or it should be purple. I’m not really sure what color eggplant is supposed to be, but a lot of times, eggplant is refused because it’s not the color they want,” explains long-haul trucker, Richard Gordon, who spoke to the radio program, Marketplace. “Or you might get a load of potatoes with too many eyes in it or too many curves and they reject it for that reason.”

Richard Gordon and brother Roger Gordon have a long history of serving the public good. Richard has hauled humanitarian supplies as part of FEMA’s response team during every hurricane disaster since 1992. Roger is a lawyer who has served Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the League of Urban Gardeners, both in San Francisco. They never enjoyed seeing loads like these go to waste. At first, they would team up to donate refused loads. In 2012, they launched the smartphone app, Food Cowboy, to connect unwanted food with food banks and soup kitchens.

When a driver posts the availability of food to the app, he gets responses from organizations who need it. He can do this while posting his own needs, like where he’s headed, and the size and capability of his vehicle in potentially tight places. The organizations pay ten cents a pound, and the suppliers get a tax write-off.

Food Cowboy also enables supermarket produce managers, restaurant garde mangers, and others along the supply chain to post the availability of unwanted perishables. Then, non-profits may pick them up, or consumers volunteer to take them there.