byOne of the most popular justifications for eating animals that we encounter from the “ethical meat” crowd is…
that “livestock can be grazed in areas where crops can’t be grown,” a.k.a. “marginal lands.”
Bear in mind that many of the folks asserting this argument live in regions where crops can and do grow in abundance, making this in many cases a disingenuous justification for exploiting and killing animals we have no need to use or harm.
Beyond its use as mere deflection, though, there are several flaws with the “marginal lands” claim as a default justification for farming animals, including the fact that in many so-called marginal landscapes, native fruit and nut trees thrive, and in colder regions, specialized cold-climate crop farming techniques can produce abundant yields.
Indigenous Alaskan chef Rob Kinneen points to Bethel, Alaska farmer Tim Meyers as one example of the latter: “Ninety-six percent of the food in Alaska is imported, which leads to questions about food security,” says Kinneen. “Tim Meyers is growing produce on the tundra. He uses cold-climate farming techniques and grows on a nutrient-rich riverbed. The produce is preserved in an underground cellar with a drip oil pan stove that keeps temperatures at about 34 degrees. If you can successfully grow vegetables in a place like Bethel, I think you can do it almost anywhere.”
Another viable technique for producing fruits and vegetables in inhospitable conditions? Greenhouses.
Greenhouses Instead of Slaughterhouses
Innovations in greenhouse technology are making it increasingly possible to grow plant foods sustainably and abundantly in regions where they have not previously grown well or at all, including Antarctica, Iceland, Holland, and Las Vegas, to name just a few. And greenhouse farming can be done using only a fraction of the land, water, energy and other resources animal agriculture uses.
While not all greenhouse producers currently opt for the “greenest” growing techniques, many do, and large-scale greenhouse farms that prioritize renewable energy sources are on the rise.
Take Holland, a country described in a recent National Geographic piece as “bereft of almost every resource long thought to be necessary for large-scale agriculture. Yet it’s the globe’s number two exporter of food as measured by value, second only to the United States, which has 270 times its landmass. How on Earth have the Dutch done it?”
They’ve done so largely through a mind-bogglingly vast (and visually stunning) array of greenhouse farms, glittering complexes growing a wide variety of vegetables on only a fraction of the land required for field cultivation of the same produce.
“These climate-controlled farms enable a country located a scant thousand miles from the Arctic Circle to be a global leader in exports of a fair-weather fruit: the tomato. The Dutch are also the world’s top exporter of potatoes and onions and the second largest exporter of vegetables overall in terms of value.”
But can they do so sustainably?
Renewable Energy: Sun, Wind, Even Volcanoes
In 2000, the Dutch famously declared a commitment to becoming international leaders in sustainable agriculture and global food security, adopting the slogan, “Twice as much food using half as many resources.” The 36-acre greenhouse farm of the Duijvestijns family in Delft, Holland, specializing in award-winning tomatoes, seems to bear this promise out.
Quoting National Geographic:
“[T}he Duijvestijns have declared resource independence on every front. The farm produces almost all of its own energy and fertilizer, and even some of the packaging materials necessary for the crop’s distribution and sale. The growing environment is kept at optimal temperatures year-round by heat generated from geothermal aquifers that simmer under at least half of the Netherlands.
The only irrigation source is rainwater, says Ted, who manages the cultivation program. Each kilogram of tomatoes from his fiber-rooted plants requires less than four gallons of water, compared with 16 gallons for plants in open fields. Once each year the entire crop is regrown from seeds, and the old vines are processed to make packaging crates.”
Iceland is another country making great advances in greenhouse food production via geothermal energy— in this case, they are harnessing heat from the country’s abundant volcanoes to sustainably grow fruit and vegetables year-round in a region where months dominated by darkness and below-freezing temperatures have historically dictated a short growing season.