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Solving the Food Problem

Chris Borek – 8/25/2021

Spira Farms started with a mission of providing local sustainable foods. This means a focus on producing foods and providing those foods to consumers utilizing the least wasteful techniques we are capable of. Farming can be improved in many ways, but predominantly it is water and energy usage. In addition to less water and  improved energy, the nutritional benefits of eating fresher foods is incredible.

 Let’s talk about water first.

Watering plants outside at the scales we do is an amazing achievement. In the U.S, we use 50% of our land for food production, and an astounding 80% of our fresh water for that production alone (Gunders,2012). To get a better idea of what that means, we can utilize the estimate from the United States Geological Survey in 2015. Illinois was utilizing 10-20 million gallons of water a day, which means 8-16 million of that alone is used just for food.

Source: United States Geological Survey https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/total-water-use-united-states?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects

Traditional farming is incredibly inefficient at water usage. Much of the water is runoff, or evaporates and never reaches the plants they are intended to nourish. Spira Farms utilizes vertical farming techniques that reduces the water usage by 99% through:

  1. Water being directly fed to the plants
  2. Water unused is recycled
  3. Evaporated water is recaptured and recycled.

A combination of these techniques means we are pretty close to having it so the only water that leaves our farm is the water that was required to generate the plants we consume.

Now it’s time for Energy

In the United States, there is great effort to move food long distances. We have become accustomed to having whatever type of foods we want at any time. While this is incredible for the quality of our lives, it comes at a major cost to our world. Ten percent of the energy budget allotted by the United States government goes to the logistics of moving food across the world to us (Weber, 2017).

With 10% of the United States energy going into food production and logistics, this is an incredible amount of emissions contributing to climate change given most of our energy sources output carbon as shown above.

40% of the food produced within the United States goes to waste.

Not only is there a huge energy usage to bring food to us locally, there is also a huge amount of food that goes to waste. 40% of food goes to waste, is the largest part of municipal waste, and is a large portion of the annual methane the U.S outputs (Weber, 2017).

Purchasing locally produced foods eliminates many of the logistical and energy challenges that come along with foods. We no longer need to have foods brought in from across the world, greatly reducing the energy requirements and emissions. As technology improves, as does our capabilities to have all of the foods we enjoy from across the world, but locally produced.

At Spira Farms, food is harvested, and dropped off to you the next day. The distance the food travels is significantly reduced, being about 1% at most of the distance food typically travels. Additionally, we grow to order so less food is wasted. This means far less energy, far less of a carbon footprint, more nutritional foods, and far less waste as we grow to order.

Last but definitely not least – Nutritional benefits

60% of the world is nutritionally deficient in iron, 30% is deficit in Zinc, and 15% is deficit in Selenium. (Weber, 2017). In time this will become a larger problem as food operations need to scale, and often this means increases in soil degradation. In addition to this, how we bring food from across the world to us causes huge losses in the nutritional values in produce no matter the storage practices. In a week of storage of broccoli:

  • 71-80% of glucosinolates are lost. (Ward off bacterial, viral, and fungal infections)
  • 59-62% of flavonoids are lost. (Anti Inflammatory properties, antioxidant agent)
  • 44-51% of sinapic acids are lost. (Anti Inflammatory, antiglycemic, neuroprotective, antibacterial properties)
  • 73-74% caffeoyl-quinic acid are lost. (antioxidant activity, antibacterial, hepatoprotective, cardioprotective, anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, neuroprotective, anti-obesity, antiviral, anti-microbial, anti-hypertension) (Naveed, 2018)

You are not getting the food you are paying for when it comes from around the world.

Not only are there nutritional deficits that come along with keeping food in from afar, if the food is grown outdoors they are susceptible to nature. Farmers, wanting to maximize their crop output will add pesticides and fertilizers that harm us and our world.

Solving these problems

Spira Farms did not start with microgreens because of their ease of use, but because they are capable of solving the water, energy, and especially the nutritional problem we have. We grew our foods at home to help alleviate the emissions we output, but quickly realized if we could provide this to our community we could greatly scale our goals. In addition to combating climate change, we ran into cancer in our family. This truly heightened our awareness of the nutritional hole that exists in Chicagoland today. When our doctor told us the best thing we could do was keep positive, and focus on nutrition, we made sure microgreens became a staple in our life to handle this new challenge. 

References:

  1. Gunders D. Wasted: How America Is Losing up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill. National Resources Defense Council Issue Paper. IP: 12-06-B. (2012). Available from: https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/wasted-food-IP.pdf
  2. Dieter, C. A. (2018, June 18). Estimated use of water in the United States in 2015. Usgs.Gov. https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/cir1441
  3. Weber, C. F. (2017). Broccoli Microgreens: A Mineral-Rich Crop That Can Diversify Food Systems. Frontiers. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2017.00007/full
  4. U.S. energy facts explained – consumption and production – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). (2021, May 14). United States Energy Information Administration. https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/us-energy-facts/
  5. Naveed, N., Hejazi, V., Abbas, M., Kamboh, A. A., Khan, G. J., Shumzaid, M., Ahmad, F., Babazadeh, D., Fangfang, X., Modarresi-Ghazani, F., WenHua, L., & Xiaohui, Z. (2018, January). Chlorogenic acid (CGA): A pharmacological review and call for further research. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29080460/
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