Food is an essential part of living. Just as plants need water and nutrients to grow, so do humans. Without food, humans would not be able to develop, think, play, and basically function. This basic principle, however, leaves many people asking questions. If people recognize that food is needed for survival, how come there are still so many populations all over the world left without food to eat? In such an abundant earth, surely there must be someway to produce enough food for everyone on the planet? The answers to these questions revolve around the topic of world hunger, which has been a major issue for ages. There are many reasons as to why world hunger is still present on the earth today, but the main reason has to do with food growth.
Food growth is very important in determining how much food a population has. However, so many places on earth are not able to grow food due to many factors, most of them being related to climate and environmental factors. Some of these factors include drought, flooding, and anything else that may affect production of crops. Knowing that climate and the environmental factors play a huge role in the production of crops, many people are asking, “Is there a way to produce some sort of artificial environment that could grow crops anywhere, no matter what the actual climate is? For scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), there is.
Caleb Harper, an MIT scientist, has been working for the past several years on growing lettuce. However, he is not just growing lettuce, he is changing the future. By turning a small lounge into a high-tech garden, Harper hopes to change the way food is grown all over the world. How exactly does he plan on doing this? In short, he wants to grow plants in a container in which the climate and atmosphere of that container can be controlled by scientists. Having these plantations in places of the world where crops cannot regularly be grown would change the future of agriculture. Food would no longer have to travel thousands of miles to reach peoples’ tables, and countries would not have to pay huge shipping costs to bring food in.
Although this amazing idea exists, there must be a way for scientists to put it into action. As a matter of fact, Harper is already working on creating these simulated atmospheres. What this looks like is simple: a glass lab containing about 50 plants in a row stacked up higher than the average human’s head. At first glance, these ideas may not seem original and innovative, but the new technology lies within the LED lighting. Harper’s idea is to use certain red and blue LED lights, that is, the certain parts of the spectrum that control photosynthesis, so that the plants are able to grow and photosynthesize no matter the conditions outside. The room has many sensors which monitor the atmosphere and feed the data back to the scientists. These sensors will help the lab control the atmosphere inside the box, depending on the amount of sunlight and temperature coming from outside. Several companies, such as the Florida-based Growtainer, already want to build communities of these labs for educational purposes. CEO Glenn Behrman, who has spent over 40 years running plant nurseries in Florida, said, “I’ve got $1 million invested in this.”
Although these labs may be more on the pricey side, the show hold a huge market opportunity. Compared to a greenhouse used today, which uses an average 55 million lights, these high-tech farms are, as said by Heliospectra’s CEO, Staffan Hillberg, “A big deal.”
These artificial farms could definitely change the way plants are produced, but are there any other ways in which these labs can be simplified and use less materials, such as water and soil? The answer to part of this question is the concept of “resurrection crops.” Biologist Jill Farrant, who works with TED Talk, talks about these resurrection crops as being the plants that shrivel and and contract underneath the harsh sun, but when irrigated with fresh water, revive in a matter of hours. Her idea is to try to add the resilient into plants that humans find useful, such as the crops we eat everyday.
Another way to improve Caleb Harper’s artificial lab is to experiment and find a way to grow the plants with no soil. According to SFGate, when growing plants in pots or containers, the medium used to place these crops in must be porous in order to allow the water and oxygen to flow within the plant’s root system. This feature limits the type of media that can be used, but there are still a few options. Most of theses alternatives are made from a mixture of blended materials, such as peat, calcined clay, vermiculite, sand, or perlite. Sometimes, even organic materials such as animal waste and other composts can be used in these mixtures. In order to determine which mixture is best for the plants in the artificial atmosphere labs, scientists would have to first figure out the plants’ growing needs. Depending on whether the plant tends to need more water or tends to need less, different mixtures can be created and used. For example, mixtures made from ground bark and wooden materials are better for thirstier plants, but if they are used for plants that do not need as much water, then those drier plants might be ruined.
Overall, the technology of the artificial gardens and the improvements that can be made could create something amazing. Not only would this invention bring agriculture into cities, but it could also bring it into the homes of those who do not have it. Still, many questions are up in the air about this topic. Who will fund these labs? How many will be built, and which countries will they be built in first? These are just some of the many questions that need to, and will hopefully, be answered when the topic of artificial atmospheres is further researched and expanded.
- Gray, Kevin. “MIT’s Incubator-Grown Plants Might Hold Key to Food Crisis.” WIRED, WIRED UK, 4 Oct. 2017, www.wired.co.uk/article/server-farm.
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- “The Importance of Food.” Concern.net, www.concern.net/sites/default/files/media/page/Hunger_Factsheets.pdf.
- Li, Elsa. “Why Is There Insufficient Food for so Many People in the Third-World Countries?” LinkedIn, 15 Dec. 2015, www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-insufficient-food-so-many-people-third-world-countries-elsa-li.
- “Light Spectrum and Plant Growth | LED Grow Lights.” California Lightworks, 3 Oct. 2018, californialightworks.com/light-spectrum-and-plant-growth/.
- Maier, Casandra. “Potting Soil Alternatives.” Home Guides | SF Gate, 21 Nov. 2017, homeguides.sfgate.com/potting-soil-alternatives-79978.html.
- “Why Are so Many People in the World Hungry?” Using Facts to Stop Human Trafficking | World Vision Australia, www.worldvision.com.au/global-issues/work-we-do/famine/why-are-so-many-people-in-the-world-hungry.