indoor farming

When you hear the word “farming,” images of bucolic fields dotted with cows munching grass and rolling cornfields typically spring to mind. But in the face of a growing world population and widening food deserts, a new type of farming is emerging, far from the traditional fields.

“According to the USDA, a food desert is a low income census tract that has limited to no access to fresh fruits and vegetables within a mile of its residents,” says Duron Chavis, Virginia State University’s indoor farm project director. “Indoor farming can help bring fresh food to urban areas by utilizing abandoned warehouses and buildings as food hubs, and local food production and processing facilities.”

Chavis and his fellow researchers realized taking their cause indoors could expand their capabilities and increase opportunities.

“The conversation about urban farming has received quite a buzz over the last four years, and we realized that climate-controlled agriculture was an area that wasn’t being addressed in the context of urban food production,” Chavis says. “Through the use of indoor farming techniques, we can experience safe and healthy food that has been grown locally, which also helps the local economy.”

The Harding Street Urban Agriculture Center is located in the former Harding Street Community Center in the aptly named neighborhood, Delectable Heights. The main floor of the hall is used for food production and surrounding vacant lots have been transformed into urban gardens and orchards.

The center produces a variety of leafy greens and experiments with production techniques that will maximize their yields and nutritional value.

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“Our research shows that recirculating aquaponics is perhaps the most efficient, sustainable and accessible indoor farming technique thus far in our research,” Chavis says. “The system consists of raising fish and allowing the fish wastewater to be filtered and used as a nutrient source for the plants you are growing.”

The Harding Street Urban Agriculture Center will soon launch mobile markets, which will allow it to sell vegetables throughout the community, as well as juice and smoothie bars to utilize the fresh greens from the garden.

The indoor food production is complemented by culinary arts classes, nutrition education and a host of collaborations throughout the community. “We have learned that a holistic approach to increasing healthy food access is necessary, especially when dealing with communities that have been food insecure for generations,” Chavis says.

“We are a part of a community ecosystem, and only through the development of a holistic approach are we able to address the issues of food access in a sustainable way.”

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