As demand for food continues to increase, worldwide reliance on industrial agriculture will rise as well. With this change comes not only a number of environmental hazards, such as loss of biodiversity, erosion, water contamination, and increased chemical use, but also a change in human- plant relationships. Many farmers today spend little time in physical contact with their crops and ensuring the health of their soils, as they tend their plants atop tractors that do everything from seeding to harvesting. We as humans are slowly, but surely, becoming detached from our food. It is hard to break free of this system however, because there are few options that can be employed that would be able to keep up with global food demand. In doing so, our environment and health suffers, and we rarely think about where our food actually comes from.
There are a couple of ways that this can be avoided and they are both being practiced right here at Ithaca College. The first is hydroponics. Hydroponics addresses some of the biggest problems with agriculture today. Soil degradation and inefficient water use are the plague of industrial agriculture, but both can be avoided with this alternative food production system. Hydroponics grows plants on a growing medium that is not soil. This medium could be anything from coconut fiber to gravel, and leaves the roots of the plants directly suspended in the water below. The water is kept at a constant pH, temperature, and contains all the vitamins and minerals needed to sustain the plants and can very easily be done organically. This results are faster growth, greater yields, and healthier plants, all without having to use chemical fertilizers or pesticides. This type of system also gives farmers intimate interactions with their plants and reignites the human-plant relationship that has gone to the wayside with modern agriculture. The only downside to hydroponics is that it requires a considerable amount of energy to heat and light the buildings. However, this can easily be mitigated by employing alternative energy on site to produce all the needed electricity.
Aquaponics is the other way to sustainably produce food on a large scale. Similar to hydroponics, this type of system solves many of the environmental issues of industrial farmings. Aquaponics works by creating a symbiotic environment between plants and fish. Instead of having to add nutrients to water or a growing medium, the fish provide the nutrients by creating excrement that is taken up by the plants and used as fertilizer. The plants then filter the water, which is returned to the fish tanks, creating a closed system that requires minimal additional water input. The only other additives are fish food and pH balancers if necessary. The fish can also be harvested when they get too big or are nearing the end of their life, which again assures that a minimal amount of waste is produced. Aquaponics also requires close care by farmers as they must monitor and tend their plants frequently and have a specialized knowledge of their plants' growth patterns and health.
Both Hydroponic and Aquaponic systems are beings used at Ithaca College and can be seen in action in Terrace Dining Hall. These systems can also be done at home, so if your not an expert gardener or just want a way to produce healthy food for yourself year round, then look into one of these alternative forms of agriculture and become more sustainable today!