As we move further into the 21st century, it seems to be a given that access to healthy food shouldn’t be optional. However, the current reality is that, as our largest cities become progressively more densely populated, more and more people find themselves in food deserts – urban areas where at least one-third of people don’t have access to a car, and their homes are more than 1 mile from the nearest grocery store. Quality foods are difficult or impossible to access in these areas. Instead of healthy options being evenly dispersed across the city, the exasperating truth is that the majority of grocery stores congregate in affluent, majority-white areas – some neighborhoods even having several grocery stores clustered on one street corner – leaving less affluent city dwellers in the midst of food deserts. For some families, the only place to buy food is at the gas station or the corner store, where prepackaged food, hormone-ridden milk, and sugary drinks are the sole options for feeding a family. Many people who live in these food deserts work full time on minimum wage, and it is unfeasible to expect busy parents to pay for a long bus ride to the nearest grocery store, and then bus home, carting heavy bags, with their children in tow. Instead, people reasonably opt for what is available around them: unhealthy, processed, genetically modified foods.
The impact of this is detrimental.
Food deserts are killing our people. From inner Los Angeles to New York City, there are swathes of neighborhoods completely devoid of healthy options. When many families overwhelmingly sustain themselves on minimum wage jobs and EBT Cards, and the food within walking distance is only pesticide-ridden, prepackaged junk food, how do we expect our youth to succeed and break the cycle of poverty? If we hope to shift the narrative and uplift our society together, it’s imperative that our urban spaces provide healthy options for everyone.
Enter vertical farms, a revolutionary and sustainable farming method that has the potential to revitalize city communities. Often built in derelict buildings, vertical farms are indoor, urban farms that maximize limited space by using farming techniques that save water, generate jobs, and provide urban areas with access to organic fruits and vegetables. Vertical farming employs multi-story buildings, and each floor is repurposed as an indoor field for a variety of crops. As temperatures can controlled and regulated for specific plants’ needs, vertical farms allow healthful, whole foods to be grown in a densely-packed city year-round. Often, these buildings reserve the bottom floor for a market, and other makers and farmers can be invited to participate in a broader, indoor farmers’ market. If these markets follow the initiative of many farmers’ markets and accept EBT Cards, they would successfully combat food deserts and provide the people not only with access to healthful food, but also with job opportunities as revolutionary farmers, water conservationists, and retailers.
When vertical farms are built in cities, we are telling citizens of all socioeconomic backgrounds that they are worth fighting for, worth valuing, and that their health is important. If an entire group of people is kept oppressed through systematic devaluing, leading to Type 2 Diabetes, heart problems, and an inability to focus in class due to unnourishing diets, our country as a collective suffers.
Vertical farms not only empower our people to eat healthy, know their food, and work within their communities to advocate healthy change. They also significantly reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. According to The World Watch Institute, fruits and vegetables typically travel 1500 miles from farm to plate across the nation. This kind of travel is devastating to our air quality and is a major contributor to climate change. Enter Plenty, a promising vertical farm startup, that claims that their vertical farms can yield 350% more food per acre while utilizing only 1% of the water needed for traditional farming. Such optimistic statistics have revolutionary implications for the future of food.
When pollution is adversely impacting our urban areas and our citizens’ health, it’s vital that we consider this in our food consumption. With the global population becoming increasingly urbanized and growing at an exponential rate, we have to consider how the future of our food looks now, before it’s too late, before we find ourselves experiencing food and water crises across the globe. Vertical farms, with their water reduction techniques and brilliant use of space, offer a clear solution.
The time to act is now, while there is still time to create a brighter, healthier, and more sustainable future. With a greener future comes a more vibrant community. And only when food deserts fall to vertical farms, and all the people are uplifted, will we truly thrive.