For most hobbyist indoor horticulturalists, producing food in their indoor garden is little more than a novelty. They do it more for the love of their hobby than the practicality of producing food indoors. Generally speaking, it is less expensive to purchase food products at a grocery store than produce the equivalent product in an indoor garden.
However, combine recent advancements in technology with the potential 40% increase in the cost of food over the next ten years, and the practicality of home indoor food production is becoming a viable alternative. The advantages of home food production go beyond just financial incentives.
Producing one’s own food adds a heightened sense of security because it gives the food consumer control over every variable in the production of his or her food. With genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on the rise and the ever expanding questionable practices amongst our food producers, growing your own food becomes a decision based on one’s morals as much as one’s finances.
Increase in food costs
One thing that consumers are noticing when they visit their local grocery store or farmers’ market is the increased cost of quality produce. This phenomenon has multiple contributing factors, all of which affect the cost of food for consumers.
Since the vast majority of food products are still grown outdoors, weather directly affects the production of food and, therefore, supply and cost. There are also a variety of foods that can only be produced seasonally and need to be shipped in during the off-season, which increases cost. Floods, droughts, shortened growing seasons and disrupted pollination processes all affect crop productivity and the cost for consumers.
As our fuel, energy and labor costs continue to rise, so does the overall cost of food production. Many foods travel fairly long distances before reaching the end consumer. The longer the distance traveled, the more it costs to ship the product. This results in an increase in the price of food that is directly related to the increase in fuel costs, and this increased cost is passed on to the end consumer. This is why—if you are not going to grow your own food—you should, at the very least, try to purchase locally grown food to reduce the cost of shipping.
Supply and demand
Besides weather and production costs (both of which affect supply), one of the largest contributing factors to the increase in food costs is the increase in demand. Developing nations with booming populations have a hunger for particular foods. This increase in demand pushes up the price of food worldwide, especially when the supply of the particular product has not increased.
As a nation’s currency value inflates or depreciates, the cost of food is relatively affected. An increase in the cost of food occurs when a nation’s average income does not increase at the same rate as the inflation of the currency.
Questionable food production practices
The rising cost of food is the most prevalent reason consumers are looking into alternative sources of food; however, it isn’t the only one. Personal ethics and higher moral standards are other reasons consumers are looking elsewhere for their food products.
A few different issues regarding the production of the food we consume have come into the spotlight. Some of the conventional methods being used by agriculturalists are linked to the pollution of soils, water ways and livestock.
There is also a growing concern regarding the safety and stability of the GMO products that are already in our food industry. While the farmers and government officials sort out the mess, we consumers are left in a state of suspended isolation, not knowing for certain if the foods we eat are 100% safe or even 100% food.
As an alternative, a consumer might choose to produce as much of their own food as possible. Unfortunately, not everyone is blessed with enough outdoor space for a flourishing vegetable garden. Most people, however, do have a window or small space they could dedicate for an indoor garden. Indeed, consumers are turning toward hydroponic and other automated growing systems, which have the potential to maximize efficiency in their indoor space.
Plants are intricate beings whose cultivation requires a multifaceted approach. Lighting, ventilation, atmospheric control, hydroponic systems and nutrient chemistry are all contributing factors to the success of an indoor garden, and each one is a science in its own right. In the last ten years, all of these factors have undergone major technological advancements that, individually, can boost the efficiency of an indoor garden. Collectively, these advancements are giving an increased justification to indoor home food production.
There have been much recent advancement in the efficiency of lighting. For HID lighting, digital ballasts combined with specifically designed HID bulbs have boosted light output while heightening energy efficiency. In some cases, energy efficiency has increased by up to 15%. Other new lighting technologies like LEDs, induction fluorescents and plasma fixtures are providing even more energy-efficient options to the consumer. Some of these new technologies are able to increase efficiency up to 40% compared to standard lighting fixtures. Each lighting technology advancement that reduces energy consumption brings the overall cost of production down and the practicality of home food production up.
Ventilation and atmospheric control
There has been much advancement in ventilation and atmospheric control that directly affect the cost of production in an indoor garden. Air- and water-cooled reflectors, high-efficiency fans, and mini-split high-efficiency air conditioning units have all played a role in reducing energy consumption in an indoor garden.
Automated atmospheric controllers offer an even more efficient option for the indoor horticulturalist. There has also been an increase in knowledge surrounding plant physiology, specifically in regard to supplementing CO2. State-of-the-art ventilation and atmospheric equipment, teamed with the advanced knowledge of CO2 supplementation, has streamlined this particular aspect of indoor horticulture and significantly increased efficiency and reduced the cost of production.
Advancements in existing hydroponic systems, combined with innovative, newly developed systems, have played a large role in increasing production within an indoor garden. Aeroponic, aquaponic, fog-type and current-culture systems have all been recently introduced to the home hydroponic gardener and all have the potential to boost indoor food production. High-performance hydroponic systems reduce water waste, lower energy consumption and maximize nutrient uptake. All of this equates to faster growth and larger yields while maintaining energy efficiency.
Just as our technological advancements in the equipment used to grow the plants have played a role in increasing efficiency, so has our increased knowledge and innovative methods in regard to nutrient chemistry. Our understanding of plant physiology is in a constant state of evolution and as we gain more knowledge of chemical compounds and how they affect plant functions, our nutrient regiments become more beneficial.
Thirty years ago, we thought N-P-K was all that was necessary for plant growth. Now we have discovered over 15 essential elements, multiple beneficial elements and an array of enzymes, hormones, vitamins and amino acids that all affect the growth of plants. As our nutrient regiments become more fine-tuned for particular crops and their specific stages of growth, we increase the effectiveness of our feeding programs and reduce cost of production.
Another pivotal factor pertaining to the practicality of indoor food production is the access to information. Just a few years ago, it was very difficult for growers to find information on lighting, ventilation, DIY hydroponic equipment, etc. Now, the increasing number of indoor horticultural reference books and magazines, along with the Internet, makes information readily accessible for everyone.
Growers can share their own trials and tribulations with each other and in a collaborative effort, increase their knowledge in home food production. This increase in accessible information plays as vital a role in maximizing efficiency in an indoor garden as the technological advancements in gardening equipment.
So, whether your decision is based on financial reasons or a feeling of moral obligation, producing some or all of your own food at home is becoming a realistic option for many people. Our technologies in indoor horticulture are advancing as fast as the plants that are being grown, and as efficiency increases, the cost to produce food products decreases.
Even city folk are turning to indoor home gardens to, at the very least, supplement some of the produce they would normally purchase—even planting an herb garden in the kitchen window is an admirable step toward self-sufficiency.
Our knowledge and willingness to share it increases an attitude of self-reliance that undermines the potential dangers inherent in our current conventional food production methods.