As modern food processing has expanded its reach, a shrinking portion of our diet is in its original form of fruits and vegetables. Medical professionals moan about the fact that most of us to not get a “balanced diet. For maximum health, the nutrition experts at the U.S. Department of Agriculture urge all adults to eat at least two-to-four servings of fruits a day and three-to-five servings of vegetables – but Center for Disease Control surveys show that less than a third of all Americans do this.1
This helps explain some of the nation’s rising health-care bill.
If you eat like most Americans, your grandmother would not be happy with you. “You are supposed to be a role model,” she would say.
Part of this unhealthy consumption pattern is due to price signals. We can buy more food volume for less money if we buy processed food than if we buy fresh fruits or vegetables. This volume may not be a healthy, but it often appears more filling for less money.
When we confront the significant present and future issues around obesity and public health, we might see that the challenge facing our country is to produce fresh wholesome foods at a cost and availability competitive with processed foods.
One reason fruits and vegetables are so expensive at different times of the year in many parts of the country is that seasons change – and local farmers who plant outside can only grow leafy greens or tomatoes for a few months a year. This means they pay for the land and taxes for 12 months but get income from it only during a portion of the year. Therefore, they have to charge more.
We can import food grown elsewhere cheaply only if two things hold true. First, it has to be inexpensive to move the produce form one climate zone to the other. (Think about the cost of flying bibb lettuce from California to North Carolina.) Second, the continual use of the land depletes it, so increasing amounts of fertilizer and pesticides must be applied. To make food affordable, these fuels and chemicals have to remain cheap. Unfortunately, for the past few years the price of fuels and chemicals has been rising – and is expected to continue to do so indefinitely. 2
You can see that we might want to have an alternative system in place to provide us with food that is safe and reliably available close to home, regardless of the time of year.
Wearing my futurist hat, I am pleased to say there is an alternative system. It is called hydroponics, and it is coming along nicely. One of the largest producers is Premier Organic Farms in Dallas, Texas. In 2009, they produced more than 9 million heads of lettuce, along with many other crops.3
Imagine a piece of Styrofoam floating in a bathtub full of water outdoors. The Styrofoam has holes in it about as big as a quarter, and in those holes are bits of spongy stuff that seeds are placed in. The seeds sprout, and the roots reach down to the water. You add fertilizer, which can be organic, to the water, and the plant grows wonderfully. Move the bathtub indoors in a greenhouse or garage with skylights or artificial light, and the plants often grow better because of the lack of bugs. You don’t need to use chemicals to spray. Costs go down, and health goes up.
Hydroponics facilities not only grow plants off-season, they do so with [an estimated] one-fifth as much water as traditional agriculture. And clever use of waste heat and natural lighting can cut otherwise expensive energy use.
One such commercial scale pioneer is Dew Drop Farm in Mocksville, North Carolina. They produce delicious tomatoes for market through the fall, winter, and spring when traditional methods do not work.
Restoring a healthy diet should be a matter of national urgency. With one-third of our population suffering the ill effects of obesity, and another third significantly overweight, many people will end their days with a sickly decade, dying too early at great private suffering and expense – unless we change the way things are done.
One thing you can do is examine the quality of lettuce and other products at the supermarket and compare the hydroponic version to the regular product – and make your own decision. Another is to build a small “do-it-yourself” hydroponic system. [Do an Internet search for] “DIY hydroponics” [or search] You Tube: hydroponics.
1. Consumer Reports
3. www.premierorganic farms.com
About the author:
Fran Koster, Ed.D. is a Rotarian. He is the author of several books, including Discovering the New America, from which this excerpt is taken.
Francis Koster received his Doctorate from The Program for the Study of the Future at the University of Massachusetts, where he studied the implications of likely global future trends and their impact on the public policy of the "life support systems" of Air, Water, Food, and Energy, the interplay between them, and their impact on public health of The United States.
He has been an award winning innovator in Education, Energy, and Healthcare, serving at various times as student and staff at an experiment college, administrator of the nation's largest renewable energy program, and Vice President for Innovation for the nation's largest pediatric sub-specialty health system.
Post "retirement," Dr. Koster maintains a consulting practice. His clients include the Duke University Graduate School of Nursing where he helped new curricula in the areas of leadership and project management, and the Catawba College Center for the Environment, among other clients. He is a frequent speaker to groups of adult leaders on matters of public policy, sustainability, and life support systems.
Dr. Koster is married to Dr. Carol Spalding, President of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in North Carolina.
In addition to his consulting practice and newspaper writing, Dr. Koster runs a website called TheOptimisticFuturist.org, which collects and displays proven solutions to known problems facing America.
Dr. Koster has served in the United States Army National Guard, and as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa.
The opinions expressed by the authors of each Make-up Article do not necessarily represent the opinions of Rotary eClub One and its editorial staff.