Puerto Rico – Produce Safety Alliance

For the past 2 days, we have attended a certification program on Food Safety. The information is vital to the health of a farm as well as the consumers who benefit from what the farm produces.

Much of the emphasis is on traditional farming and all of the potential contamination events that can happen in the field and post harvest in spite of best efforts. The soil, the water to irrigate the vegetation and even the process to wash the produce can provide a perfect environment for pathogens to take hold. With the expanse of so many traditional farms along with the rate at which bacteria, viruses and pests can multiply, it is an ongoing battle that keeps farmers working around the clock.

The beauty of indoor vertical farming is that you can control the environment in a way that minimizes the risk and produces consistency and predictability in an otherwise random industry. The water can be tested, filtered, naturally enhanced with nutrients, and even cooled to ensure success; something that would be impossible on a 100-acre farm. In hydroponics and aquaponics, the roots are not grown in soil but in water where the nutrients flow evenly reaching every part of the root structure evenly on each and every plant.

Growing in soil is another matter. Vegetation planted in the soil is only as good as what the roots come in contact with. If there is nutrient depletion, mold spores or an underground pest, it will be extremely difficult to identify and prevent damage or crop loss.

Cultivation Agriculture Plantation Lettuce

Outbreaks of E. coli, Salmonella and other pathogens have increased as risk factors in traditional farming and the need for food safety becoming more critical. Unfortunately, some of the efforts to eliminate the risks have caused more than their fair share of consequences, thanks to GMO’s and pesticides (which is a post for another time.)

That is precisely why hydroponics and aquaponics are becoming a focal point for the future of agriculture. Consumers are more educated and they are paying more attention to the “condition” their food is in when it hits their dinner plates.

People are starting to care where their food is coming from and the influence under which it is grown. Consumers are starting to embrace the concept that local food is better for you – whether traditionally grown or hydroponically. What is important to realize, however, is what the food was exposed to (locally or not) from seed to harvest and beyond.

Food safety is a big responsibility for all farmers. But to what end will farmers go to make sure their produce is safe? Best practices are not always the cheapest; indoor vertical farming is costly up front but the results and long-term benefits are far more consistent and nutritious than what can be achieved outdoors, in most cases. Outdoor organic farmers face far more stringent regulations and practices, not to mention the cost involved. It is not an easy business.

Investing in hydroponics and aquaponics is a progressive bet that Controlled Environment Agriculture will change the way we grow, distribute and eat meals that come from sustainable, healthy, chemical-free, non-GMO produce with a low carbon footprint. 

Now THAT’s a happy meal!