Vertical Hydroponic Farming is changing how we produce food for the better and is addressing the consequences of climate change in the process.
Since 1970, temperatures in the Southeast have risen by nearly 2° F, with higher temperatures observed during the summer months (National Climate Assessment, 2014). The seemingly small increase in temperature creates a detrimental set of threats that include decreases in agricultural output due to drought and flooding events. Florida has suffered a marked increase of extreme weather events including broken heat, rainfall, and drought records. It is estimated that over the next 100 years, Florida's average temperature will increase by 3 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit, with the nation's most dramatic summer heat index increasing by 10 to 25 degrees F (World Resources Institute, 2012).
How can a vertical hydroponic farm can make a positive impact in feeding the world in the face of severe climate change consequences?
Florida faces an increased risk of inland flooding during occurrences of heavy rain, specifically in low-lying coastal areas, such as the Miami area. The vertical tower growing system with stackable planting pots that Urban Oasis Hydroponic Farm uses is raised off the ground by about 3 feet. Our property lies along a slope that drains into a wetland directly adjacent to the farm. Half of the year, we are inundated from a few inches to water right at our knee level. In a traditional in-ground farm, the crops would never survive, but in our farm, the crops never sit in any standing water.
With most of Florida's water being supplied in the North, and most of the demand stemming from the South, the state already suffers from regular water shortages. Climate change is expected to impact 96% of counties with increased fresh-water shortages, which will most certainly impact agricultural production in the state. The Tampa Bay region's water supplies have dipped dangerously low and newer stricter precautions have been forced onto citizens for using water (St. Pete Times, 2010). Even with the plans for future water sources, it seems that with the growing population in the Tampa Bay region and increasingly dry seasons, water scarcity will remain a pressing issue (St. Pete Times, 2009). Drip irrigation systems, like the one we use at Urban Oasis Hydroponic Farm, use one-tenth of the water required by traditional agriculture. This is a huge win for the water supply as it stands, but is an even greater advantage in the presence of fresh-water shortages.
Vertical hydroponics are labor intensive and man-powered. No tractors or combines can do this work, and that alone means no fossil fuels are used on these kinds of farms. In addition, Urban Oasis Hydroponic Farm does not ship our produce all over the country or the world. We serve the local community, as most small and urban farms do. So food miles are significantly cut down, meaning less fuel input, more energy conservation, and fresher carbon-neutral food.
The era of hydroponics is just beginning. There are dozens if not hundreds of variations of hydroponic farming and not one is a silver bullet. We need more local, urban, high-tech/new-tech farms to meet the food demand in the face of a changing climate. The great thing is that you don't need to do much to get involved in the food movement other than buy local and/or grow your own food! It can start with you.