Is it a coincidence that the name of an enormous factory farm which produces lettuce in Japan is located in the Miyagi Prefecture?
Miyagi was the name of the teacher in “The Karate Kid”, the man who taught balance, patience, perseverance, initiative, ingenuity, hard work, and compassion.
The head of this indoor factory farm—the largest of its kind—is plant physiologist Shigeh Shimamura.
He has put his knowledge and experience of plant biology and environmental technology to practical application by transforming an old Sony semiconductor factory into one that can grow ten thousand heads of lettuce a day.
Partnering with General Electric (GE) and using its proprietary LED (light-emitting diode) lamps and proper environmental factors, Shimamura has achieved the ability to minimize waste and electricity, maximize water usage, and produce lettuce of high quality.
His ambitious and altruistic aim: to reduce—or even eliminate—world food shortages.
From Semiconductor Factory to Lettuce Factory Farm
The factory is 25,000 square feet, almost half the size of a football field. Being indoors, the plants can be stacked on huge shelves (fifteen high!) with 17,500 lights and ventilation between, making the most use of the space. Plants are also protected from hazardous natural conditions like storms, pests, and drought.
The volume of plants wasted compared to a conventional outdoor farm is just ten percent versus up to fifty percent. With the same amount of area, the factory realizes a one-hundred-fold increase in productivity per square foot and does so in less than half the time of an outdoor farm.
Little Pink Houses With Lots of Power!
There are other indoor farms around the world—a new one just opened in Indianapolis (John Cougar Mellencamp should be proud). Some, like the one in Indiana, use a different lighting technology that emits only the red and blue rays of the light spectrum onto plants—with very positive results.
Called “pinkhouses” (the combination of red and blue make a lovely shade of magenta), the LEDs provide plants with only the light they need for photosynthesis; the plants grow faster than those using all waves of light and require a fraction of the energy. The factory in Miyagi employs this technology at night and white light during the day that moves to mimic the sun; this accounts for the advanced growth.
Similar farms are being planned for eastern Russia and Hong Kong.
GE and Philips Have Now Both Been Successful in Launching LED Technology for Growing Plants.
While this new technology sounds fabulous and might become a significant contributor to the world’s food supply, keep in mind that there are many factors to hunger around the world, some of which are not physical impediments.
In a book entitled Who’s hungry? And How Do We Know? Food Shortage, Poverty, and Deprivation, the authors explore the phenomenon of hunger around the world. In “Chapter 3: Food Shortage”, the question
“Is there a world food shortage?” is candidly answered in short form:
“World agriculture produces enough food calories to meet the energy needs of all the nearly 6 billion (6 x 109) people who are alive today. Increased production based on advances in seed, water, and environmental technologies, and their wider dissemination especially in developing countries, have removed insufficient production as a cause of food shortage for the world as a whole.
Global agriculture has managed to keep pace with population growth, and world food security is also safeguarded by cereal carry-over stocks; 19-20 percent of annual cereal consumption is carried over into the next year to provide food in case of disastrous production failure (FAO 1993).1 Nevertheless, during any year in which enough calories are produced on a global level to meet the energy requirements of the entire population, food shortages can still occur under two situations.
If the patterning of production directs too many calories into animals instead of humans, some enjoy meat while others lack calories. Alternatively, overemphasis on the production of calories may jeopardize the production of other protein- or micronutrient-rich foods that also enter into the calculus of global food security or shortage. Both are production as well as distribution issues.”
All efforts to feed all people with nutritious food as the ultimate goal are welcome and necessary—as long as motives and methods remain pure.