Feeding the Future
When people hear about environmental concerns — particularly the dangers of global warming — they often associate these ideas with left-wing political positions. This makes sense; after all, the political firestorm-causing proposal to address climate change termed the “Green New Deal” was advocated for and sponsored wholly by progressive politicians. However, it is unfortunate that we have come to approach environmental concerns along partisan lines. Pollution, resource conservation and long-term planning in anticipation of population growth are universal issues and they will not discriminate on individual political affiliation.
Hashem placed Adam and Chava in Gan Eden “le-ovdah u-leshomrah,” to cultivate the Garden and guard it (Bereshit 2:15). As Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l points out in “By His Light,” this extends beyond the natural world and a concern for ecology, though these are worthwhile endeavors as well. Still, Rav Lichtenstein argues, our primary obligation is, one, “to guard, to have a sense of responsibility in relation to that which we have been given,” and two, “to work and develop.”
As the global population grows, the potential to “cultivate” the world through Torah study, worldly innovation and academic advancement increases. Humanity’s desire to innovate and excel can only be realized when our more basic necessities are accessible. Maintaining a healthy thriving society that is well-positioned for future growth can enable us to fulfill Hashem’s mandate to cultivate the world and guard our human values.
Beyond the aforementioned global concerns, a specifically pressing environmental and humanitarian concern that does not get the attention it deserves is sustainable food production. The issue is twofold: More people means more space will be needed for housing, leaving less room for food. On top of having less available space for food production is the fact that we will actually require more space to produce food for the population. Without sufficient arable land, the safety of our food supply system is at risk. The USDA estimates that by 2050, demand for food will almost double. This means that governments — particularly in developing countries — will need to address these significant changes in demand.
This is a difficult world to imagine. We live in America where our supermarkets are almost always stocked with thousands of different products. We hardly ever find our local stores out of stock on staple items. But take a moment to imagine walking into your local Trader Joe’s (or any other supermarket you frequent) only to find that they are out of stock of flour, bread and fresh leafy greens. Imagine your local supermarket tracking your produce purchases and capping your shopping at 5 pounds of fresh produce per week. These scary thoughts seem far-off to us, but they may in fact come to fruition within our lifetimes or our children’s lifetimes.
We therefore need to think and plan wisely for the future of our food security. Our current practices are not sustainable, and we need solutions fast. One such solution is creating a platform that combines innovative agricultural techniques like hydroponic and vertical farming.
Hydroponics is the process of growing crops in nutrient-laden water as opposed to soil. Recycling water in the system saves farmers money and prevents environmental pollution that stems from common irrigation systems and fertilizers. Farmers can also choose to grow their produce in a greenhouse where seedlings are stacked vertically under grow lights, thus saving space. Coupled with hydroponic growing, vertical farming in this fashion would not only save water, it would also save lots of space. Imagine Belfer Hall was a vertical farm capable of growing enough produce to feed the Washington Heights community. Growing vertically cuts our land use to a fraction of what it would otherwise be, leaving more space for natural forests, housing initiatives and even new cities.
Such ideas are no longer far-fetched or impractical. Vertical farms like Bowery and Vertical Harvest are using these concepts to grow crops in urban areas using less water, less space, and producing more reliable crops 365 days a year. The future of sustainable farming is here and it’s going to grow.
Still, many challenges await the industry. These businesses are having a hard time turning a profit. Despite the hurdles, scientists around the world are committed to bringing sustainable farming to the forefront of our food supply chain. And we, as religious Jews, have an imperative to concern ourselves with these issues.
Farming sustainably is not merely an ecological concern. It is a humanitarian concern that has great relevance to our lives. Just as a doctor’s work or a parent’s care for their child comes with a sense of religious-like obligation to heal and to nurture, so too our food production must come with a sense of responsibility towards our communities today, our children tomorrow and the generations to come.
Photo Caption: Growing hydroponically can provide us with more food using less space
Photo Credit: Erwan Hesry/Unsplash