This Is Why 2017 Is the Year for Local Food (and Farms)

Get ready, 2017: Demand for local food is expected to reach an all-time high! 

Consumer preference for fresh, locally sourced produce at restaurants, grocery stores, farmers markets, and related venues continues to grow. In fact, research shows that many people are willing to pay more for local food. (Increasingly, some are even deciding to grow it themselves.)

And now, more than ever before, urban farmers can meet the demands of these dedicated locavores — with Tower Garden.

The Benefits of Local Food

If you’re new to the term, “local food” is generally defined as food that’s grown within 150 miles (and often less) of where it is sold and consumed.

Reducing transportation distances, or food miles, is important because the quality of food diminishes with time. Green beans, for example, lose 77 percent of their vitamin C after seven days (PDF).

Local food is typically:

  • Fresher, tastier, and more nutritious, thanks to the short time it takes to move it from the farm to your table.
  • Produced by small family farms or independent growers.
  • Grown naturally, without pesticides (but this isn’t always the case).
  • More unique — large corporate farms rarely grow specialty crop varieties.
  • Delivered directly to local markets by the people who grow it.

And the benefits of local food don’t end there. The movement has also helped create more walking-friendly, economically vibrant, and healthier neighborhoods and communities.

So there are plenty of perks to growing food locally. But in most cases, growing locally means growing in urban environments.

And finding 400+ empty acres in downtown Manhattan to plant traditional row crops? Yeah. Not going to happen.

Fortunately, that’s no longer the only option…

Tim Blank with Wendy Coleman and Jennifer Crane, owners of LA Urban Farms

Designed with Local Food in Mind

When I started developing Tower Garden in 2005, I was driven by a simple conviction:

Every family in the world should have access to fresh, great-tasting, healthy, and clean food.

I believed hydroponics, the process of growing plants without soil, was a viable way to achieve this vision because it made growing in urban areas — or virtually anywhere, for that matter — easier.

But at that time, hydroponic technology had five distinct drawbacks:

  1. All commercial systems were horizontally oriented (a significant misuse of valuable space).
  2. Different hydroponic crops often required different growing systems and unique fertilizer solutions — that were not interchangeable.
  3. Many systems were drain-to-waste, meaning they wasted a lot of water.
  4. Hydroponic systems that did reuse water typically used a single supply tank for all the plants. So a root disease could easily and quickly spread throughout the entire farm.
  5. Most hydroponic systems were simply too complicated for small family farms to operate.

(Note: For many hydroponic setups today, these same problems still exist.)

In my early professional career, I managed the four-acre hydroponic greenhouses at The Land in the Disney World® Epcot theme park. It was there that I witnessed the challenges of hydroponics (as well as its many benefits) firsthand while interacting with farmers from all over the world.

The experience helped me realize what the hydroponic growing industry needed if it were to ever become simple and productive enough to achieve mainstream popularity.

Jessica Blank with Troy Albright, owner of True Garden

With a mission to make hydroponics more accessible and effective — and to, therefore, make real food available for all — I set out to develop a system that met five criteria:

  1. Grow food vertically, using only 10 percent of the land typically needed. For both economical and environmental reasons, the future of food — much like a modern city — is about growing up, not out.
  2. Support a wide variety of crops. Local farmers need to be able to easily change plants to meet seasonal demands and customer preferences. And since they’re growing a variety of plants, they also need a simple, one-size-fits-all hydroponic fertilizer. (I’m proud to say that Tower Garden is the first in the world to have made such a thing!)
  3. Recirculate water and nutrients to reduce water usage by 90 percent. Water is arguably our most precious resource. So farming practices must use it efficiently to be sustainable.
  4. Prevent the spreading of plant diseases by isolating nutrient reservoirs. A systemic outbreak is an event so catastrophic that it could put a local farmer out of business.
  5. Keep it simple! I wanted to make it possible for someone to set up a small, urban farm in one day and start growing food immediately.

In just a few years, we accomplished all these key goals with Tower Garden — now a recognized leader in the local food movement.

O’Hare Urban Garden at Chicago O’Hare Airport

Where Local Farms Are Taking Root

Today, we have hundreds of Tower Farms (i.e., farms that use Tower Garden technology) across the United States and around the world.

Thanks to Tower Garden’s unique design, many of these farms exist in urban environments ­— places where food production previously seemed impossible. I’m talking about airports, convention centers, underground bunkers, skyscraper rooftops, schoolyards, and even the astoundingly cold conditions of Alaska.

In fact, every year, we establish a first-of-its-kind farm somewhere in the world.

Tower Farmers come from all walks of life, and I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know many of them personally. In the process, I’ve realized that one thing they all share is an incredible passion for fresh, local, and healthy food.

Oh, and most have no farming background prior to starting with Tower Garden.

Here are just a few examples of local Tower Farms that have taken root in American cities:

  • In Los Angeles, California, LA Urban Farms provides many farm-to-table restaurants and other interesting venues — such as Sunset Gower Studio in Hollywood — with fresh, local food.
  • In Phoenix, Arizona, True Garden offers living produce (i.e., plants harvested with roots still attached) to CSA customers and farmers market shoppers.
  • In Tulsa, Oklahoma, Scissortail Farms delivers living and fresh-cut produce wholesale to local grocery stores.
  • In Chicago, Illinois, the Chicago O’Hare Airport grows 20 different crops, supplying several of the airport’s 80 restaurants with fresh ingredients. (O’Hare is the world’s first airport to grow food inside a terminal!)
  • In Memphis, Tennessee, the local Boys & Girls Club uses its Tower Farm to teach urban farming vocational skills, preparing youth for jobs in the agriculture and culinary industries.
  • In Orlando, Florida, the Orange County Convention Center grows fresh food for event attendees. It’s the first convention center in the U.S. to do so.

Steve Williams and Kym Alexander, Tower Garden Division, at the Juice Plus+ Technical Training Center in Memphis

Help Make 2017 the Year of Local Food

The list of advocates for and providers of local food goes on. And with the momentum of the local food movement, I’m confident the list will continue growing rapidly in 2017.

Want to get involved by starting your own Tower Farm?

Learn more »

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