House & Home

Taking Farming Offshore

Posted October 24, 2013

Hydroponic gardening is already a well-established method of producing fruits and vegetables in controlled conditions for maximum flavor and efficiency, with growing adoption among landscapers. All over the world, hydroponics facilities are growing lettuce, strawberries, and more for eager consumers, but this farming production technique has another potential use; helping coastal communities like Singapore produce their own food.

Researchers concerned about shrinking supplies of arable land and conflicting land use have come up with a truly innovative approach to hydroponics. The whole point of this approach to food production is that it can be used anywhere, any time; you don't need high quality soil or a larger farm for hydroponics. So if you're looking at a coastal community that has to import most of its food or struggles to meet food security needs, why not just look a little further, beyond the beach and into the coastal waters?

Obviously, saltwater isn't the growth medium of choice for most edible plants, seaweeds excepted. But that doesn't mean it can't be used to float hydroponic capsules, thereby extending the usable space for farming for a community interested in fresh supplies of food. That's exactly what's being proposed with Sealeaf, a fascinating new floating hydroponics module that can grow up to 44 pounds of food each year.

That might not sound like very much, except for the fact that these modules are designed to be used in groups. Then, the amount of food they can produce starts to seem very impressive, especially when combined with thorough, careful management to make sure crops are producing at their healthiest and most efficient. The modules carry solar panels for energy production, thereby eliminating the need to rely on mainland power (an issue in cities like New York where electricians are already struggling to meet city power needs), and thanks to their close location to the market, they radically reduce food miles, cutting down on the carbon footprint of the produce grown inside.

Better yet, they address a pressing issue in many urban communities: that of a lack of fresh, seasonal, local, organic produce. Such produce is often out of the price range of much of the population, which makes it difficult for people to integrate fresh produce into their diet and to eat healthy, balanced foods. The Sealeaf system directly addresses this issue, improving not just food security but the local economy and, potentially, the health of the populace.

Given that 18 of the world's 21 megacities are coastal, and many of them rely heavily on food imports for their survival, the very direct need for a system like Sealeaf is obvious. Food security is a growing problem in the 21st century and one that is only likely to get worse as growing populations, shifting climate, and changing land uses put their pressure on the available farmable land. By extending food production to the water, cities can safely feed their populace and maintain more independence, something which can be politically and socially critical.

While it's only a concept right now, Sealeaf could prove viable in testing. If it does, it might revolutionize the face, and coastal waters, of many urban environments.

Katie Marks writes for

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