Recently, I read a thought-provoking article called “The vegetable technology gap,” by Helena Bottemiller Evich. She makes the case that the American public consumes four times as much spinach now than 40 years ago because of technological advances in the form of a new and improved bag that allowed the product to be shipped, damage-free, across long distances. However, according to the author, most of the public and private funding for research like that which led to this new bag goes to commodity crops like corn and soy, instead of the fresh fruits and vegetables programs like MyPlate encourage people to eat.

On the USDA website, these healthy foods are grouped into the “specialty crops” category, which is defined as “fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture).” According to a March 7 USDA press release, there is currently $60 million in grants available to the specialty crop industry. The USDA press release states that the grants are to be used to “support projects including research, agricultural extension activities, and programs to address the needs of America’s specialty crop industry.” There’s not much funding available when you consider just how many of these produce and ornamental growers and institutions would be interested in receiving these resources, and how long of a process it is to come up with technological advances like the spinach bag for highly perishable fruits and vegetables. Bottemiller Evich states in her article that in the past 30 years, only 15 percent of the federal research budget went to specialty crops. You can read the article at politi.co/2n5YVr2

But there’s no doubt that there’s a need to continue to invest in technological advances in the produce industry, including those that will enable more efficient growing methods that yield an increased number of higher-quality fruits and vegetables. For that reason, we’re focusing on technology in this month’s issue.

For our cover story, I spoke with Jack Griffin, the founder of Metropolis Farms and a former Wall Street executive, about how he’s using technology to feed the residents of Philadelphia. He’s a passionate advocate for vertical farming and for “democratizing technology” — creating affordable, highly efficient indoor growing systems that can be adapted to any crop. Griffin is a strong believer in supporting the local economy with locally grown food and technical innovations, rather than shipping produce across the country. “I love California, but jobs in California and 3,000-mile truck rides? It doesn’t make sense [now]. The economic term for it is comparative advantage,” he says. “They had better sun and a comparative advantage growing outdoors [in the past]. But comparative advantage can be eclipsed by technological enhancement or technological innovation, which is essentially what’s happened.” Turn to page 6 for more on how Metropolis Farms is changing the way we see vertical farming.

How has technology shaped the way that you grow? Drop me a line at kvarga@gie.net and fill me in.

kvarga@gie.net | (216) 393-0290

Twitter: @Karen_GIE