We are in the midst of a global food crisis, with the price of food skyrocketing globally over the last year. As the cost of corn has jumped 87% and wheat 74%, tens of millions of people are finding it harder than ever to feed their families, with the rising price of food even helping to trigger the wave of social unrest sweeping the Middle East. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) said a record 40 million Americans, or 1 in 8, may not be able to eat without government assistance. As the CEO and co-founder of Home Town Farms in San Diego, Dan Gibbs has developed an innovative solution: commercial vertical organic urban farming that provides food that is not only lower in cost, by higher in quality as well.
The causes of our rising food prices are many. Bad weather in key growing regions around the world has lead to short supplies. The steady growth of the world's population to reach seven billion this year has stretched the world's agricultural production capacity to the limit. "At the most basic level, the crisis is a test of mankind's ability to feed itself," wrote BusinessWeek (February 21, 2011).
Even in the US, the high price of food is having an impact. The down economy and unemployment has left millions of people right here in the U.S. unable to afford food for their family, and the high cost of low quality food is increasingly apparent, with the tide of obesity continuing to rise and contribute to our spiraling health care costs.
Home Town Farms vertical organic urban farming is the solution to both bad food and high prices. They are introducing vertical farming in greenhouses that will be located in cities and suburbs on unused land, empty lots or even roof tops, growing vegetables and berries vertically to produce six to eight times the productivity as conventional agricultural. By using greenhouses and combining organic farming with vertical growing methods, they drastically reduce the need for pesticides and herbicides, reduce fertilizer use by 80%, and also save 85% of the water. By growing and selling local food in urban and city areas, where it will be used without shipping it thousands of miles, they avoid the need for long distance food distribution, reducing fuel use and fuel costs by as much as 90%. Overall, Gibbs estimates that food produced by Home Town Farms will be half the cost of it takes to traditional farmers and the current distribution system to grow and ship the produce from the farm to the city. Plus at the same time create good green jobs and help the planet.
"We will build these farms in the center of each community with direct sales to the people," said Dan Gibbs, co-founder of Home Town Farms. "The bottom line is we can offer fresh, locally grown vine ripened organic vegetables and berries at conventional non-organic prices. This will allow every family in America access to Whole Foods quality produce at affordable prices."
Another benefit of the approach being developed by Home Town Farms is that the food they produce is not only affordable, but higher quality because it is picked fresh and sold locally. Conventionally grown produce is often picked weeks early and shipped thousands of miles to reach consumers, reducing its nutritional value and quality. The vegetables and berries from Home Town Farms will be bursting with flavor and nutrients, while still being affordable, providing a healthier alternative for budget-minded consumers looking for a change.
"Freshly picked vine ripened vegetables and berries can help provide optimal health to individuals," said Steven A. Brody M.D., Ph.D, a nutrition expert. "The phytonutrients in these foods constitute powerful substances to fight cancer and heart disease. Fresh vine ripened vegetables have the highest potency of these healthy micronutrients. Consequently, I would encourage the consumption of vine ripened produce for anyone interested in good health and well-being."
As the price of food rises, the Home Town Farms approach provides a hedge against future price increases since food is grown locally and sold directly to consumers rather than being sold on the global commodity market and has much lower need for outside resources like fuel. Their approach will also boost food security in the neighborhoods where it is adopted, ensuring a steady food supply in the event of shortages or disruptions of the food distribution network.
All of the pieces are there for Gibbs and Home Town Farms as they put them all together to make this innovative approach to food production a reality. As the world's production capacity is strained, we will need more innovative solutions like Home Town Farms that can provide the growing population with high quality and low cost food for many years to come. To get involved, get in touch with Gibbs and see how you can help.
If you want to find out more about Home Town Farms or commercial vertical organic urban farming go to www.hometownfarms.com.
Glenn Croston is the author of "75 Green Businesses" and "Starting Green", helping business to start green and grow green at www.startingupgreen.com.