In Alaska’s Arctic Circle, the land is basically treeless where the year-round temperatures make it nearly impossible for boreal roots to take hold.
To make up for the lack of agricultural production in the Arctic, people are using a creative type of farming to assist the Alaskan farm communities.
Hydroponics can actually increase growth rates by up to 50% compared to soil-grown plants and can also increase yield. A Native corporation, Arctic Greens, is using hydroponic technology to grow crops despite the freezing temperatures. Arctic Greens uses a 40-foot insulated shipping container equipped with LED hydroponic lighting to harvest kale, basil, various lettuces, and other greens from the soil-free system. They can use these hydroponically-grown crops to serve the near 3,300 community residents and sell the items at the local supermarket.
“Our vision is that this can be a long-term solution to the food shortage problems in the north,” said Ron Perpich, the founder of Arctic Greens. “We’re hoping that we can put systems anywhere that there’s people.”
According to Popular Mechanics, the cost of new hydroponic systems is a serious issue facing smaller communities. The process, including the price to customize the freight container, costs around $200,000 overall.
NPR reports that many farmers are against hydroponic farming because it’s not “organic.” But Mark Mordasky, owner of Whipple Hollow Hydroponic Farm, believes it’s basically the same thing because they’re still farming in a greenhouse of sorts.
“We’re not doing anything with the land, good or bad,” said Mordasky. “We’re not irresponsibly using land. We’re simply choosing not to use land at all. Does that make us not organic?”
The National Organic Standards Board will vote on the issue of whether or not to stick the organic label on hydroponic-grown products this November. But we can expect soil farmers and hydroponic producers to continue farming in ways that best suit them.
“If we had all our nutrients organic, all of our pesticides and herbicides — whatever we’re doing to control the disease was organic, and the medium itself that the roots are growing in is also organic, all the inputs are organic,” Mordasky added. “The outcome, it seems to me, would be organic.”