Here’s another Next Big Thing for South Dakota to consider:
We’ve turned most of our prairie into fenced-off food factories… so why not turn old factories into farms? Fifth Season is growing real food for real people in an old steel mill in the Braddock, Pennsylvania, a borough outside of Pittsburgh decimated (literally: the population is a tenth of what it once was) by the collapse of the steel industry.
“We use no herbicides and no pesticides,” Webb says. “And that’s because we have hermetically sealed environments.” The possibility of contamination is all but eliminated. Fifth Season recently received a perfect score from the Safe Quality Food (SQF) program, an international, independent body that certifies food safety management. “The second time in 25 years they gave 100 percent,” he says [David Kidd, “Robots Take Vertical Farming to New Heights,” Governing, 2021.06.28].
Vertical farming also doesn’t require a producer to amass two or three square miles of land, drain the river to irrigate it, and dump tons of fertilizer to keep the depleted soil on life support:
Fifth Season uses up to 95 percent less water and 98 percent less land than conventional farming. Water from the municipal system is filtered and proprietary nutrients added before getting to the plants directly through their roots. “It means you can replicate any form of soil environment,” he says. Whatever water is not used by the plants is retreated and recirculated, with nutrients added as needed. A peat mix is used to support the roots, but all the nutrients are in the water, not the “soil” [Kidd, 2021.06.28].
Vertical farming means folks in Braddock and the Pittsburgh area can access fresher, locally grown greens:
Localized food production means less spoilage and waste. “If it takes anywhere from five to eight days to go from California to Pittsburgh, you’ve just lost five to eight days of shelf life,” says Austin Webb. Most of what Fifth Season produces is consumed in the Pittsburgh area. “The day after it was cut, not 10 days later.” Their ready-to-eat salads can be purchased at a local supermarket chain, or delivered directly to the consumer at home, a direct response to the pandemic. Local restaurants, hospitals and universities are also customers [Kidd, 2021.06.28].
Hmmm… farms that could produce good local food without any need of federal subsidies and crop insurance. That production model would seriously disrupt the Noem–Arnold family’s welfare-business model, but it could bring significant improvement to South Dakota’s economy and environment.