Indoor farming companies—like Kimbal Musk’s Square Roots—claim their methods can replicate any climate on earth, resulting in better-tasting produce. That story may be more marketing than science.
There have never been more ways to get fresh produce sent to your home, from basic grocery delivery services; to “misfit” and “ugly” veggie startups; to bespoke, plant-based meal kits. But at the end of the day, what’s in a veggie box? Is it merely a collection of assorted produce, or is it a value system? Do you spend those dollars simply to fill your fridge, or are you also trying to support small farmers and local agriculture? Does it matter if the items are USDA-certified organic, or if some items are grown several states away?
As veggie box delivery companies have proliferated, some small-scale farmers say it has become harder to run traditional community supported agriculture (CSA) operations, in which consumers buy a “share” of a local farm’s harvest at the beginning of the growing season. In return for this investment, share owners get a box of whatever produce was harvested. There’s an inherent gamble, in that the consumer shares the risks associated with farming. If it’s a bad year for tomatoes, they may not get any tomatoes.
An environmental advocacy group is out today with its annual report on pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables. Raisin lovers, take note.
Nearly all conventionally-grown raisins are contaminated by traces of two or more pesticides, according to test data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited in Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, the report by the Environmental Working Group, based in Washington, D.C. The average sample contained more than 13 pesticides, and one sample tested positive for 26. Even most organic raisins sampled by the USDA tested positive for at least one pesticide. The environmental group recommends that consumers buy organic raisins when possible, or avoid raisins in favor of fresh fruits and vegetables with lower levels of pesticide contamination.
Federal agencies and state governments are spending millions on anaerobic digesters to wring renewable energy from animal poop. But critics say “cow power” from factory farms is neither clean nor green.
Imagine for a moment, a possible future, some years ahead: Across the plains, acres that were once plowed up and planted to corn or wheat go back to native grass. Marginal, flood-prone land is left to return to wetlands, improving water quality downstream. Farmers diversify their operations in order to effectively manage risk in a changing climate. Monocropping is a thing of the past.
Or this scenario, not so long from now: Growers adopt practices like no-till and cover cropping, which helps lower their inputs—the money spent on fertilizer, pesticides, seed, and anything else they need to get a crop in the ground. They turn a profit with ease. They may even switch to cheaper, non-GMO seeds and see profit margins swell.
In this future tableau, cattle are turned out to pasture on land that was once intensively farmed. Land managers plant low-cost grasses and other silage, and graze livestock on a portion of the land while the remaining acres are allowed to rest and regenerate. There’s always something growing in the soil, anchoring nitrogen, helping retain rainwater, and sequestering carbon.
This is what American agriculture could one day look like, according to farmers, environmentalists, and economists. But first we’d have to get rid of federally subsidized crop insurance.