Looking down at my bare toes getting splattered with fat, warm rain drops as I walked through a row of soggy banana trees and palms, I instantly felt happy to be back in my hometown. It hadn’t been raining five minutes ago but, as is the norm in Florida, the sunny blue skies had suddenly changed and were now delivering a torrential downpour.
Ahhh, the wonders of living in a subtropical swampland.
I was standing on a “farm” in Broward County during this afternoon sprinkle; which is technically impossible since Broward County, the second most populated county in Florida and home to Ft. Lauderdale, zoned out agriculture years ago. But there I stood on a hydroponics “farm”, run by a Florida-raised Cuban mother who began growing food because she couldn’t trust anyone else to feed her new daughter.
While I respect this woman and her motivation for growing food, I use quotations when I speak of the site as a farm because – and I know this is going to upset some people – it is a hydroponic operation; and I have a hard time accepting this way of growing food as farming. (Apparently Broward County feels the same way.) Hydroponic means growing food without soil, using only water and added nutrient solutions.
Call me old fashioned, but I like a little soil involved with my plants. Some people, those that I probably just pissed off with the above statement, support hydroponics for the obvious reasons: it’s a good way to grow when there is no soil available, it’s helpful in cities when limited space is available, you can grow vertically in hanging or tiered planting systems, and hey, it’s not dirty and you don’t ruin your knees bending over to do actual farm work.
But I am not in support as much, if you haven’t already guessed, for other reasons: it is very rare that there is NO soil available, we do live on Earth… and as an environmentalist at heart, part of what draws me to farming is the opportunity to renew the soil we have by planting in it. Yes, much of urban soil is contaminated- but at least bringing in some soil and starting anew on that lot by building the soil up with compost made right there on the farm is still giving back.
Also, as someone interested in bringing agriculture to our under-served communities, I view hydroponic systems as way too expensive and impractical for the average food consumer. You not only need to buy the growing containers (which were made of Styrofoam on this farm I visited -WTF? I thought that stuff was banned by now), but also the hanging or tower systems to hold them, the tubing and timer for irrigation, the nutrient solution or fertilizer (which is often made of synthetic chemicals that are not approved by the USDA Organic standards), and the medium to grow them in (like the coconut husks used at this Florida site), which helps the plant absorb the nutrient solution. Oh, and depending on whether you grow inside or not – which many hydroponics systems are used for since their benefit is utilizing space inside city buildings – you also have to buy the artificial lighting.
That is a lot of inputs. Where as with soil-based sustainable farming, your inputs can be as simple as compost, water, and sun.
Seeing as how I was standing there in the sunshine state, in the middle of a rainstorm, I just didn’t get why this “farm” was choosing to rely on Styrofoam instead.
The issue of farming and how to farm is not a black and white issue; there are pros and cons with many agricultural technologies, and I am definitely no expert. You can look out for what I did like about this ‘farm’ in my next post on Grist.
But for now, you can expect a break in posts from me as I enjoy the Holiday season with my family and venture to Frankfurt, Germany to spend the new year with a dear friend!!
Happy Holidays to you and yours – Peas ‘n’ Love.