Will your kids be growing fresh food on Mars? Lesson printables included.
Farming technology from space might just save the world.
Traditional agriculture, where food crops are grown in the ground in large fields, is how the world has fed itself for 12,000 years. Before that, early humans hunted and scavenged food from wild plants. They moved from place to place, following herds and growing seasons. The shift to cultivating plants for food had such a lasting impact on how people lived that it is known as the Neolithic Revolution. People began building permanent settlements centered around farms.
That model has been the basis of how we’ve fed ourselves ever since. New technologies, like irrigation and pesticides, have allowed us to grow crops more efficiently over vast tracts of land, but the basics are the same. A seed is planted in fertile soil and, if conditions aren’t too stressful, it will eventually reach maturity and produce food. This method of production has its limits, however. According to a study by The Royal Society journal, we may be just one crop breeding cycle away from being unable to produce enough traditionally-grown food for the global population.
It’s time for a massive shift in the way we grow food. We need a solution that can grow more food in less time, doesn’t deplete the soil of nutrients and takes up less space. The next big agricultural shift will be toward vertical farms. Will your students be prepared?
What’s Going on with Traditional Farming Methods?
Most of the world’s calories come from the big four: wheat, rice, corn and soybeans. The Royal Society study estimates that, by 2050, we’ll need to produce about 85% more of these mega-crops.
Monoculture farming isn’t sustainable. Topsoil, which is essential for traditional agriculture, could be depleted worldwide in just 60 years. Ninety-five percent of our food is currently grown in soil, but that needs to change — and fast — to maintain the global food supply. It’s up to educators to introduce our future farmers and agricultural scientists to the viability (and necessity) of alternative farming techniques and help to make the shift to a hyperlocal, sustainable food chain.
What is Vertical Farming?
Vertical farming is the most efficient, space-saving way to grow fresh produce year-round, indoors or outdoors. Instead of growing on a single level, which requires lots of space and lots of soil, plants are stacked. Vertical farms are highly productive with a very small footprint. This revolutionary agricultural model was initially developed for astronauts in space — and, eventually, to support life on Mars.
The challenge NASA’s plant engineers were tasked with decades ago is a sizable one. The plants need to be as efficient as possible, and they need to grow in a small, self-contained system where every resource, including food, water and oxygen, is precious. Life on Mars will depend on these plants producing oxygen for us to breathe.
Currently, the International Space Station has two sealed greenhouses that grow mixed greens for the astronauts. But this technology is also important to sustaining food production on an increasingly nutrient-depleted earth.
Aeroponics: The Agriculture of the Future
Whether here or in outer space, aeroponic technology is the sustainable agricultural model of the future. Copiana’s aeroponic tower system works for all types of fruits and vegetables — anything that grows above ground. This means lots of greens and herbs, but also tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers.
- Increase crop yield by 30% on average
- Grow in a growing medium instead of in soil
- Use 95% less water than traditional farming
- Reach maturity in half the time
- Need 90% less space
- Grow tastier, more nutritious plants!
Vertical agriculture eliminates many problems of traditional farming. Crops aren't subject to bad weather, climate change, or most diseases. Since soil is removed from the equation, insects or wild animals aren’t as prominent of a threat, allowing farmers to practice organic methods. Farms don't disrupt forests or natural areas, and farmers aren't exposed to dangerous machinery and chemicals. In extreme (or extraterrestrial) climates, vertical farming creates a temperate growing environment and makes a much wider range of produce accessible and affordable.
Aeroponic greens and herbs even taste better than conventional produce. The taste of a plant is affected by everything it experiences during the growth process, so by optimizing its nutrient intake and eliminating sources of stress, we grow a more flavorful, healthier, organic product.
The major impact of vertical agriculture is that it meets increasing food demands sustainably while decreasing environmental footprint. Copiana’s aeroponic system drastically lessens farming’s environmental impact. At the same time, we can grow more produce more quickly.
Vertical farming solves many of the problems of the traditional farm: bad weather, disease and pests are nonissues for aeroponic agriculture. And since crops can grow where people live, work and shop, we eliminate the cost and pollution of shipping our produce.
To help your students understand the importance of alternative agricultural solutions, and how we may one day be growing food on Mars, we’ve included these lesson printables.