by Amber

Post-Organic Produce: The Future of Indoor Farming?

Newly launched Bowery indoor farm company in Kearny, New Jersey thinks so. A recent rash of press announces their crops as the world’s first “post-organic” produce made possible through Farm OS, their proprietary automation of every aspect of growing from lights to pH and nutrient dosing to environmental control. Being able to have this level of control, to tweak light spectrum, pH, macro and micronutrients, and more to arrive at the sweet spot in sugar levels, flavor, aroma, and even color in indoor crops comes with advances in technology. We’re seeing it in small hydroponic gardening appliances, and other commercial indoor farms cropping up over the past year.

A New Food Classification?

The thing that really captured my attention when I first saw a feature piece on Bowery a few weeks ago was… post-organic produce. What does that mean exactly? Like postmodern being more modern than modern art, post-organic is more organic than organic food? Some cry foul at such labeling, calling them out for posturing to be more than something they didn’t invent. Today’s organic farmers did not invent organic growing. They simply revived something ancient, and over the years, fine tuned it for modern farming to fulfill supply chain demands.

Yet, soil-based commercial organic farming isn’t perfect. It may be far safer to eat than chemically-supported agricultural products, but there is room for improvement where food sources and food supply are concerned. Organic produce is highly seasonal. It’s prone to some serious travel miles off-season, and often picked green for transit and gas-ripened, or aging between leaving its roots and arriving on your plate a week or more later. When it’s “in season” locally, the scenario changes, but that season is fleeting, while we eat 365 days a year. What’s more, the US organic produce industry has grown to $43.3 billion dollars annually based on the belief that:

… organic food is healthier, and that it’s grown without pesticides. The former is not necessarily true; the USDA organic certification refers to growing methods, not nutritional value. But the growing methods remain the source of some confusion. One survey found that 95% of consumers believe organic produce is grown completely without pesticides. That is definitely not true: Large-scale organic farms make liberal use of pesticides—the pesticides themselves just have to be organic, too.” — Fast Company

The Time is Ripe for Post-Organic Produce

Post-Organic Procude: The Future of Pesticide-Free FoodAnd with the organic certification conundrum indoor farmers are currently facing, perhaps it’s time to stop trying to beat the round peg into a square hole. The longer I mull over this post-organic produce thing, the more sense it makes. If you can’t beat them, join them in upsetting the apple cart, but in a totally new way. Leave the organic farmers with their soil-based rules and regulations, and create a whole new category of food. One not exposed to the vagaries of climate and wild things – or airborne and soil-borne pollutants, pathogens, and toxins.

Advances in technology bring a whole new level of quality control to farming. It’s come a long way since the 21st century arrived. Heck, it’s light years ahead of what was possible just 4-5 years ago. Being able to automate it, to tweak plant nutrition or the exact spectrum of the crop lighting the moment it’s needed… totally changes fruit, vegetable, and greens production.

An Emerging Movement?

It very well may be that post-organic produce production in a closed environment is the next step in meeting consumer demand for safe food. Advances in LED grow lights, technology, and sustainable off-grid energy production make indoor farming sustainability possible. Furthermore, it’s the only way to have truly pesticide-free food without playing Russian roulette with possible crop failures or damages by munching creatures and organisms. No supply chain needed. It’s super locally-grown, hits store shelves and dinner plates within within hours to 1 day of harvest… introducing true vine-ripened flavor and nutrition to food year around in any location. No possibility of pesticide drift or runoff contamination. And closed environment growing hugely minimizes the threat of food-borne illnesses. Also, IoT crop data provides a trace on any such instance in minutes, rather than weeks or months.

So, maybe there should be a Post-Organic Certification Board to oversee the administration of farming guidelines written especially for controlled environment hydroponic, aeroponic, bioponic, aquaponic, and container farming from day one. The only food classification that can truthfully be labeled Certified 100% Pesticide Free. Because organic pesticides are safer than chemical alternatives, but still pesticides. There are plenty of harmful to humans substances in things living on this planet. If it will kill a bug or a fungus, does that make it safe to use on our food? Pesticides approved for organic farming are only on the USDA list because they will not harm the environment.

And while, Bowery’s Farm OS is their own creation, indoor farming automation and IoT systems and setups have been available to growers for a year or two from other companies. So, “post-organic farming” is not proprietary, though they certainly deserve credit for coming up with an excellent name to give to food grown in a controlled environment without any pesticides at all it’s own identity in the marketplace.

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Images courtesy of Quartz and Yank The Chain (respectively). Label by Amber.

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The garden played a starring role from spring through fall in the house Amber was raised in. She has decades of experience growing plants from seeds and cuttings in the plot and pots.