Get the inside scoop on some hot environmental news – including a repurposed factory in Chicago using sustainable vertical farming methods, an investigation into Food and Drug Administration failures, new findings about mushroom communication and neglected contaminated waterways.
It’s like no other farm you’ve ever seen. Crops are lettuce, basil, and microgreens – young vegetables 1 to 3 inches tall. They grow in trays that span a huge room. The LED lamps cast their strange light on the plants. Most surprisingly of all, these crops are thriving in a 97-year-old converted pork processing plant in Chicago called The Plant.
This repurposed building is home to five vertical farms, a form of urban agriculture that emphasizes locally grown food in pristine conditions and without chemical fertilizers. John Edel, Founder and Director of Bubbly Dynamics LLC, the company that owns The Plant, says, “We call it (The Plant) a vertical farm because we’re growing on many levels.
In addition to vertical farms, The Plant incubates 19 other food-related businesses, including three breweries, a bakery, a cheese distributor, a coffee roaster and a chocolate maker.
The processes used by The Plant farms are environmentally friendly. Edel explains, “There is a mix of hydroponics and soil growers in the building. One of the advantages of growing in a building is that there are no insects. It is therefore not necessary to use pesticides or herbicides.
But that’s not the only advantage of operating indoors. Urban Eden, one of The Plant’s farms, grows crops aeroponics, in which plant roots hang in the air and mechanical devices inflate them with mist. Aeroponic systems use 95% less irrigation than traditional agriculture. And in labs housed at The Plant, food scientists are also studying the potential uses of algae and cellular agriculture – growing meats and vegetables at the cellular level.
The Plant’s companies have closed-loop systems, in which growers use waste to help fuel the manufacturing process. For example, the Whiner Beer Company, located on the first floor of The Plant, salvages ingredients used in beer production to bake bread and create compost.
You can learn more about this unique agricultural center at Inside The Plant.
Who and what is the impact of avian flu?
A highly pathogenic strain of bird flu has spread through bird populations across the United States this year. As of this writing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 40 million poultry have been affected. This triggered the mass culling of herds to stem the spread. For humans, the virus has so far posed little physical threat, with only one human case reported to the CDC, but many scientists and governments are concerned about possible spread among humans. There is plenty of evidence that intensive poultry farming increases the risk of more strains – and more dangerous strains – of bird flu.
Spreaders appear to be migratory waterfowl, especially ducks. Songbirds are at a low risk of catching and spreading disease, so there is no need to dismantle feeders, but anyone with chickens should watch for signs of disease. Look for reduced appetite and egg production as well as a swollen head. The surest way to find out is to take the animals to a lab and have them tested.
For those buying eggs, expect high prices. Prices are just reaching the previous peak caused by the last bird flu epidemic (2015). This epidemic is worse, so the cost of eggs could continue to climb.
Survey finds FDA focuses more on drugs than food
According to one month Politics investigation, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) failed half of its namesake: It’s all drug and no food administration. Apparently, according to the survey, even agency commissioners sometimes get it wrong and say the “F” stands for “federal.”
One of the agency’s most potentially dangerous failures has been its failure to set standards for agricultural water to prevent certain contaminants from entering fresh produce. The agency was tasked with setting such a standard by a food safety law, which was passed following a fatal accident. E.coli outbreak in 2006. The agency tried, but, according to Politics, its 2015 policy was overly complicated and based on outdated science. It didn’t stick.
PoliticsThe 8,000+ word article offers many examples of the FDA’s shortcomings in protecting our food, but the explanation may come down to structural problems within the organization. It tells the story of a cumbersome bureaucracy made even more dysfunctional by intra-departmental competition. So what can an average citizen do with this information?
In the wake of COVID-19, the FDA asymmetry has only gotten worse. Once we get sick, the FDA is there for us. Until then, we could be alone.
Read the full FDA investigation of Politics.
School on Growing offers a course on food
What good is organic farming if there is no market for organic products? The Rodale Institute has a long history of helping farmers convert to organic practices, but now also offers a course on organic consumption.
While many environmental activists have turned their energies to the production side of the economy, or “system change,” this new course from Rodale recognizes that the “system” is actually a two-way street. If activists want federal regulations pushing regenerative farming practices, for example, they will need to help create the popular will for it.
The course, titled “Being a Regenerative Consumer,” is simple, with engaging videos. It provides a basic overview of what regenerative organic agriculture is and why it is important to consumer health. In part, the course looks like a promotion for Rodale’s own food label, Regenerative Organic Certified. This label adds two criteria to the certified organic label of the United States Department of Agriculture: animal welfare and social equity (how workers are treated and paid).
Beyond that, the final video offers five tips on how to be an organic consumer. Some of them are aimed specifically at consumers who might find organic products too expensive. A new tip: try organic gardening.
Learn more and enroll in the Rodale Institute’s Regenerative Consumption course.
Washington state decides to sell preservation
The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is setting aside 10,000 acres of forest for sale as a carbon offset, meaning the land will be sold to people who don’t want to do anything with it. They just want to let it be.
In an editorial published in Seattle weather, Washington State Senator Kevin Van De Wege argues that the DNR is acting against its fiduciary responsibility to communities that depend on funds generated from the sale of logging rights in state forests. But the commissioner of public lands behind the decision, Hilary Franz, estimates that the sale of these carbon offsets will generate “tens of millions of dollars”, according to a report by The Associated Press. If Franz is right, then it looks like the carbon offset market has started to make some uncut forests more valuable than cut.
In terms of carbon emissions, the question of “do carbon offset programs really help fight pollution” is still unanswered. Echoing the most common criticism of offsets, Van De Wege argues that they “enable industrial polluters to continue polluting”.
Look who’s talking now: mushrooms?
There is a revered history of animal language research. In the 1970s, Karl von Frisch won the Nobel Prize for studying the rhythm of bees’ buttocks and deciphering precise language from their “waggling dances”. Now post in Royal Society Open Scienceresearcher Andrew Adamatzky claims to have discovered that even mushrooms have a language.
During experiments, Adamatzky connected an array of electrodes to objects colonized by certain fungi, such as a stick or a bucket. For hours, he measured spikes of electrical signals that appeared to resemble words.
The research builds on a growing understanding of the role of fungi in forests – not just in the process of decay, but in a symbiotic relationship that facilitates communication between trees as they adapt to threats, such as insects or diseases. So if the mushrooms are listening and reacting, and a tree is falling in the woods, there may indeed be someone around to hear it.
New report details weaknesses in Clean Water Act
On the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, a nonprofit created by a group of former Environmental Protection Agency lawyers is sounding the alarm over polluted state waterways -United. In a scathing report, the Environmental Integrity Project found that, of all the rivers and streams tested in the country, about half are “weathered,” meaning you would get sick if you swim in them or eat food in them. fish.
The Clean Water Act requires states to report on their waterways every 6-10 years, but due to lack of funding and inconsistent standards among states, not all waterways are tested. In the latest report, only 27% of the country’s rivers and streams were tested.
The report points to a key weakness of the Clean Water Act: a lack of enforcement for runoff, or “non-point source,” pollution. That means the law has teeth when it comes to factories that flush pollutants, but it has nothing on fertilizer runoff, like the one that contributes to the annual dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi River. , or street runoff, like the one that kills salmon. operates in Washington State.
Read the full Clean Water Act report on Environmental Integrity.