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This New Method of Farming Could Change Where Our Food Comes From

Oct 01, 2014
TIME Health
For more, visit TIME Health.

Caleb Harper, founder of the CITYFarm Research Project, and his team at MIT's Media Lab in Cambridge, Mass. appear to have found a way to grow food four times faster than it does in nature, using a new farming method called "Aeroponics."

Unlike regular hydroponics, a growing method that uses water instead of soil, the plants at CITYFarm do not sit in still water, but rather have their roots suspended in a "fog chamber" which sprays a nutrient-rich mist.

The CITYFarmers take great care to monitor each aspect of the plants' growth, to see which conditions work the best, including a technique of limiting light to red and blue.

"This is the spectrum of light that the plants need to grow extra plant material," Harper explains--and the rest of the spectrum besides red and blue only serves to provide heat.

Harper believes that Aeoroponics not only grows fuller, more developed plants, but could be a solution to local farmers looking to provide sustenance to booming city populations.

"We all know the phrase, 'the best X comes from X'", he explains, instead proposing that "the best X comes from the environment that created it."

"There is a new way to think of using fabrication space, especially if you look at a city like Detroit."

By building a similar set up, which requires no soil or great tracts of land, "it could be that the best strawberries in the world come from Detroit."

PHOTOS: Check Out These Throwback Images of Organic Farmers

A former artist, Regan gave up painting in 1998 to grow salad greens at Sky Farm outside Millerton, NY. On eleven acres, he raises everything from familiar lettuces to more exotic leaves like borage and micro-amaranth. Unlike most other small farmers, he leases his land, rather than own it, and he sells almost exclusively to restaurants. He has always farmed organically, calling it the “honest’ thing to do.
A former artist, Regan gave up painting in 1998 to grow salad greens at Sky Farm outside Millerton, NY. On eleven acres, he raises everything from familiar lettuces to more exotic leaves like borage and micro-amaranth. Unlike most other small farmers, he leases his land, rather than own it, and he sells almost exclusively to restaurants. He has always farmed organically, calling it the “honest’ thing to do.Francesco Mastalia
A former artist, Regan gave up painting in 1998 to grow salad greens at Sky Farm outside Millerton, NY. On eleven acres, he raises everything from familiar lettuces to more exotic leaves like borage and micro-amaranth. Unlike most other small farmers, he leases his land, rather than own it, and he sells almost exclusively to restaurants. He has always farmed organically, calling it the “honest’ thing to do.
At his farm in Goshen, New York, Wyatt raises 800 merino sheep for both meat and wool (the richly colored yarn are dyed on the farm). The poetry he posts on his blog reveals a love of language, which helps explain why although he farms organically—he no longer seeks the government’s certification for doing so. “I rescinded my [organic] certification two years after the USDA took over,” he says. “I don’t like the word now because it’s branding.”
While running a storefront law office dedicated to progressive causes in the 1970s, Jones worked with labor and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, which gave him one of his earlier experiences in the field. Now he supplies dozens of New York restaurants, and runs a CSA, with the 300 varieties of herbs and vegetables he grows at Bloominghill Farm. “One of the benefits of organic is that I don’t have to ride a sprayer,” he says. “There’s no farmer in the world that wakes up the morning and says, ‘Oh boy I get to spray today.’
As a child, Bail swore she would escape the dairy farming life of her German parents. But it was too deep in her blood. After stints in Germany, California, and Canada, she landed in the Hudson Valley, where she and her partner raise cows and fruit on Threshold Farm’s 45 biodynamic acres. “I hope I die like my father died,” she says. “Right up in that barn, throwing hay out. That’s a beautiful way to go, with your animals around you.”
Together with his partner Laura Nywening, Uhler founded Peace and Carrots farm just over a year ago. But its roots go much further back: it fills a tiny corner of a dairy farm that Nywening’s family has owned for now four generations. In its first year, Peace and Carrots remains a tiny operation—just a green house that the two built from a kit, and and acre and a half for the vegetables they sell through a CSA (community supported agriculture).
After growing up on a conventional farm, Bialas switched to organic only because, when it came time to start his own J&A Farm in Goshen, NY, he couldn’t afford to buy chemical pesticides and fertilizers. But he and his wife Adina quickly realized they didn’t need them: the roughly 200 varieties they grow—everything from arugula and tomatillos to collards and popcorn—sell quickly at the farmers’ markets, through CSAs, and to acclaimed restaurants like Blue Hill at Stone Barns.
Another escapee from conventional farming, Bolluyt grew up in Iowa, where she spent summers detassling corn, and helping her uncle with his 1500-acre soybean farm. Now she raises vegetables and livestock organically with her Dutch-born partner Jean-Paul Courtens. “There used to be small farms there,” she says of Iowa. “Then they all closed and we lost a lot of the community that we used to have. After seeing what happened to the landscape, I didn’t really want to go back to the old ways of farming."
A former artist, Regan gave up painting in 1998 to grow salad greens at Sky Farm outside Millerton, NY. On eleven acres,
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