While the argument rages over hydroponic foods being certified organic, there is a method of purity assurance available any hydroponic farmer should check out. Certified-Vegan hydroponic farming… it fits your growing methods, and opens the door to new opportunities.
It’s easy to understand why growers see having Certified Organic on their label as important. More and more consumers want to avoid food that is GMO or grown with pesticides. But that’s the only way that hydroponic harvests could even be considered organic, because soil is a huge part of what makes organic… organic. But a growing number of consumers are also starting to realize that being organic doesn’t mean what it used to as Big Food muscles in with their debeaked chickens, and national brand mega farm practices. It’s perfectly acceptable, as long as the National Organic Standards says it is.
But what about the millions of vegan consumers? It’s a whole segment of Americans with very limited choices available they feel comfortable eating. Which is likely a good part of the reason why Metropolis Farms, the first commercial hydroponics farm in Philadelphia, chose to get vegan certification. Traditional organic farming incorporates animal manure to feed the soil, and blood meal and bone meal fertilizers. Vegans don’t eat anything grown with, or containing, animal by-products. While aquaponics doesn’t fit their dietary criteria – hydroponics does, as long as no vermiculture involved. Some vegans see worm composting as exploitation, while others think there’s nothing wrong with it at all because worms have no brains. Which reminds me… some vegans think that oversize tanks with a few ornamental fish that aren’t being grown to be eaten by anyone might be okay. But why even go there if it’s not going to a) turn off half of the vegan consumers, and b) unlikely to qualify for vegan certification?
Furthermore, why keep insisting that hydroponic farming is organic? It’s not. There’s no soil. Yes, you want your market to feel comfortable with the absence of chemical pesticides and GMO foods, but trying to fit a square peg in a round hole on a board that is already over-populated doesn’t make sense. Vegans want something that most cannot provide: chemical pesticide free, non-GMO food that contains no dairy or animal-byproducts, and no animals even remotely had anything to do with it’s production or safety-testing.
Most hydroponic growers are already producing food that qualifies as vegan. And it’s an untapped market, rather than being overrun with competition. You can buy fresh organic fruits and vegetables almost everywhere, at mainstream grocery stores, and farmers markets alike. Sure, one is a lot fresher, and less traveled than the other – but it’s not vegan.
Does Certified-Vegan Hydroponic Farming Have a Market?
Naturally. According to current national population, there are a minimum of over 22 million people who are vegan with a diet that is largely fruits, vegetables, and grains. A year ago, Food Navigator reported vegan going mainstream. Market data revealed that 7% of the U.S. population were vegan, which most consumers used to connect to animal rights. But things are changing. Now 35% of consumers see vegan as health food, with 13% of them regard it as more pure than their other options. Add to that the 12% who connect vegan to weight loss, and 11% perceive vegan as environmentally responsible, which another 7% think it is socially responsible food.
And it continues to gain steam as food tribes grow. Of course, if you’ve developed a strong relationship with a food tribe who wants what you’re growing, your buying group is established. Sometimes that’s a trendy thing, but healthy food isn’t a flash in the pan fad, if anything, it’s outgrown a ‘trend’ as market media defines it. So has sustainable living, environmental responsibility, and carbon footprint reduction, though in many industries the greenwashing fad remains in full swing.
Don’t get the idea that there is only a market for vegan fruits and vegetables in densely populated areas. There are many who live in outlying locations who for one reason, or another, would prefer to eat vegan daily if it were possible. Consider the number of people stricken with diseases that require a vegetarian diet as a means of natural healing, and if you yourself were a survivor of something like cancer, you would definitely be a strictly vegan shopper if you could. But they can’t. Strict adherence to the guidelines would mean starving to death, or raising everything you eat… which is also not always possible.
Be prepared to maintain healthy Brix in everything you grow though. Not only do vegans want delicious food like any other person, which requires good Brix levels. Additionally, fruits and vegetables with low Brix also have reduced nutrient value, along with poor shelf life. Obviously, Brix has the power to make or break you – whether you’re doing certified-vegan hydroponic farming, or not.
There is no government regulation or national standards for vegan certification, but several organizations exist in the U.S. that provide certified-vegan status. Not all of them certify fruits and vegetables or farms though – such is the case with Vegan Action (Vegan Awareness Foundation) in Richmond, Virginia. Nor does it look like The Vegan Society will certify fresh produce either. However, the American Vegetarian Association (AVA) does certify fresh produce and hydroponic farms as vegan, which is how Metropolis became the first such grower in the U.S.
Unlike the huge fees involved in getting organic certification, the cost of vegan certification looks to be reasonable through the AVA. The information is very brief, but it looks like it’s $250 for the first item certification, and $75 for each additional product through a “Line Extension.” It’s also a quick process with results delivered in 5-7 days. Of course, you should be prepared for an inspection visit upon sending in your application, and forever after. Third-party certification is a lot more hands-on that it’s regulatory counterpart – if such a thing existed, but it might not be long until it does.
While it may be a totally untapped market at the moment, it won’t remain that way. Metropolis Farms is already plotting to put satellite farms in more big cities as soon as possible, and other hydroponic growers will not doubt have stumbled onto the same article I did.