The movement to grow, shop and eat local has been gaining momentum in communities across the U.S, including Central New York state. Supporters say there are several benefits.
“I think that buying local food can have a significant impact on the environment, on your own personal health and the economy,” says local food distributor Marty Butts.
One example of a company with this local focus is Finger Lakes Fresh in Ithaca, New York. Finger Lakes Fresh was developed by Cornell University’s Controlled Environmental Agricultural program. After years of research Cornell developed a hydroponic growing system that cuts in half the production cycle of lettuce (from seed to harvest)---from 30 days to 15 days.
“Basically when you’re talking about hydroponics you are talking about growing plants without natural soil,” says Cornell University Professor Louis Albright.
In order to accomplish this, every plant must receive the same amount of light each day. At the greenhouse, this is accomplished by using a mixture of sunlight transmitted through glass and indoor lights controlled by a computer. The roots of the plant must be submerged into a water solution, and a 70 degree air temperature must circulate through out the growing area. This is done with the help of paddle and exhaust fans, which run 24 hours a day. This system creates a perfect environment for growing lettuce—and, Finger Lakes Fresh managers say, is also economically viable.
But the community contribution made by Finger Lakes Fresh doesn’t stop with just the lettuce crops. A few years ago, Challenge, a non-profit organization that helps disabled people find work, took over production at the greenhouse, which now has an annual revenue of $600,000.
The lettuce grown at Finger Lakes Fresh, as well as other greens such as basil an arugula, is sold at a number of locally-owned grocery stores, further supporting the local economy.