Greens, Legal and Otherwise

How does your lettuce grow? Hydroponically?

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Alice B. Toklas was famous for many things, including the “hashish fudge” she included in The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, published in 1954. (As it happens, it wasn’t fudge and it wasn’t her recipe; it was created by multimedia artist Brion Gysin.) There’s long been a lot of excitement around the existence of this recipe - it wasn’t included in the original American edition of the cookbook - but to me the most interesting element of this all is her advice on where to find marijuana. She believed sativa grew wild in the various Old Countries, but that in the U.S. “indica has been observed even in city window boxes.” Not only that, but in a 1963 interview* she said the fudge was a great snack for bridge games and Daughters of the American Revolution meetings. So wholesome! No wonder cannabis retailers are currently considered an essential business in most of the places where it is legal recreationally. Some of these small outlets are getting creative, too, like this dispensary in Corvallis, OR that now delivers pizza along with weed. “Pizza & Pot,” they call it. I don’t see a downside.

As the food supply chain gets weird and we all become more homebound (these things may or may not happen), what will you grow in your pandemic Victory Garden? What do you grow already? Drugs? Pizza fixins? Join the discussion here.

*If you’d like to listen to the segment (I love her voice), it’s here at 25:24 in an interview with cannabis expert and chocolate maker Vanessa Lavorato.

Please forward to a food-loving friend!

Photo: Box Greens

Thinking Outside and Inside the Box: Growing Greens in Miami

By Ellen Kanner

Miami may be ground zero for rising tides, but it still has glorious, abundant sunshine and subtropical temperatures.  The things that make tourists flock to South Beach also fuel South Florida’s second hottest industry — agriculture. It’s tops in the country for growing a number of specialty crops, including citrus, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and greens. So why would you farm inside? Because of those rising tides. Add other impacts of climate change, food insecurity, food waste, and human welfare to the list of reasons why the sister team of Cheryl Arnold and Lisa Merkel started Box Greens, an indoor hydroponic farm.  

If indoor farming sounds kind of like Matt Damon growing potatoes from um, poop, in The Martian, well, the idea’s similar, minus the night soil. And the regular soil. And, vegetables grown hydroponically — that means in water, not dirt — might actually require 90% less water than in-ground agriculture. 

About the indoor part: greens and herbs grow in shipping containers retrofitted with racks, irrigation, HVAC and lighting systems, enabling a year-round growing season impervious to climate change. One Box Greens 320-square-foot shipping container, outfitted with five tiers of growing racks, can produce up to 800 heads of lettuce a week, the same yield you’d get from two acres of farmland. Growing more food in less space is important along Miami’s inner city corridor, where Box Greens parks its farm.

The startup now supplies produce for Miami restaurants like Boie de and Zak the Baker. It also sells at local farmers’ markets, offering freshly-picked nutrient-dense produce as well as things you can’t see, like a shorter distribution chain, which has allowed Box Greens to pivot during the Covid-19 pandemic. Where many small food businesses shuttered, the sisters organized with other local growers to create a direct-to-consumer online farmers’ market, and offered their farm, a parking lot vacant except for their growing facilities, as a pick-up site.

Neither Box Greens sister is a tech geek, nor do they have farming backgrounds.  Merkle, the exuberant face of the company and a former yoga instructor, admits getting Box Greens up and running proved to have a steep learning curve. She and her sister were mentored by an indoor growing guru and did the buildout work themselves. It was not in their wheelhouse. But the sisters stayed with it, eager to find a way to address the multitude of issues plaguing America’s food system. Box Greens may be one small, local producer but it’s part of a larger movement. Urban agriculture has grown by over 30% in the past generation.

Indoor hydroponics farming doesn’t solve everything. Critics claim it’s energy inefficient for the amount of food it produces. But studies indicate urban farming innovations like Box Greens can ultimately grow 10% of the world’s produce.  All that while increasing awareness about our food system and encouraging consumers to make food choices with positive impacts far beyond the table. 🥬

This newsletter is edited by Katherine Spiers, host of the podcast Smart Mouth.

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