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By: Tracey Herrera, The Villages Grown | May 22, 2024

Hydroponic Farming: the past & future of farming

The Villages Grown started harvesting produce at our controlled environment agricultural facility located on Morse Blvd. and S.R. 44 in 2019.  Since that time, we have answered countless questions as to why we chose hydroponic growing methodologies versus conventional agriculture.  The resounding response is that hydroponic food production, when done correctly, is sustainable, scalable, versatile, and efficient.  With the rapid population growth that is continuing to be experienced around the globe, societal demands dictate the need to venture away from the soil depleting practices of conventional agriculture to those that ensure a smaller carbon footprint while maintaining nutrient rich food to feed the masses.   This does not mean that conventional farming will go by the wayside.  It simply means that we recognize the hard work of the local farmer and understand that the population demand on both the farmer and the land, may be too much for either to bare alone.  

To understand why hydroponic farming is an optimal farming methodology, it is necessary to acknowledge that it is not some unproven modern agricultural marvel. In fact, it has roots in ancient times and can be first seen in the hanging gardens of Babylon around 600 BCE.  The Babylonians cultivated plants without the use of soil.  Instead, water fortified with organic matter was bathed across the roots to provide the needed nutrients, unveiling the notion that plants do not require soil, but rather the nutrients contained within the soil, to flourish.   

The practice was further studied and expanded upon in the 17th – 19th centuries and was readily accepted by the 20th century.  During World War II, hydroponic systems gained prominence as a solution to food shortages suffered by soldiers stationed in remote areas.    Fast forward to the 1960’s, and we see the adoption of the practice of hydroponic farming by NASA as a means to provide food to sustain astronauts aboard spacecraft and in extraterrestrial habitats.  This adaptation by NASA poured much needed scientific research behind the now evolving food production method and by the beginning of the 21st century, modernization and commercialization paved the way for accessibility for the everyday consumer.  

As responsible stewards of our natural resources, the benefits that hydroponic farming lend to environmental sustainability are many.  One obvious benefit versus conventional farming is that of reduced water consumption.  Though hydroponics focus on nutrient dense water delivered directly to the roots of the plant, when done with care, water run off from the system may be collected, analyzed to determine the amount of nutrients uptaken by the plants, and re-dosed with nutrients before then being recycled in the system.  In this way there is little to no water waste, yielding less than 10% water usage when compared to conventional farming.  

Another important consideration with regard to sustainability is that hydroponics, when done in a controlled environmental system, eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides, helping to reduce environmental degradation and pollution.  Utilizing beneficial insects and natural plant oils to mitigate pest and disease pressure also helps to ensure a cleaner more natural end product.  Given that the nutrients are taken up at the root with no loss due to evaporation or disbursement throughout a soil system, means that each plant is given exactly what it requires to meet its peak nutrient density and growing potential.   

As more attention is given toward climate change and the growing challenges of food insecurity become our everyday concern, hydroponic farming offer us the ability to grow food in diverse landscapes.  Tower gardens and deep water PVC channels allow for a vertical farming footprint that can mean as much as 10 acres of farming compared to one single acre of conventional farming.  Systems such as NFT (nutrient film technique) tables can be assembled on rooftops or basements, opening up the possibilities for fresh produce in overpopulated urban areas.    

From its beautiful beginnings with the hanging gardens of Babylon to the high-tech controlled environment farms of today, hydroponics has proven its value in providing highly nutrient dense produce to our ever-growing population.  In partnership with local farmers, we can help to feed our communities while protecting our natural resources and we can ensure that future generations can enjoy the abundance of a beautiful harvest.  

Join us on the farm for a tour of The Villages Grown and learn more about hydroponic farming and our mission to help cultivate a vibrant community.