Healthy choices

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November 22, 2019

Kate Spirgen, Editor

It’s been shown time and again that the biggest barrier to healthy diets is a lack of access to healthy food options, particularly in urban areas. But as controlled environment agriculture finds new ways to streamline production and bring growing operations closer to home, food deserts could be shrinking soon.

And while nonprofits and community organizers have been advocating for change for decades, grant funders and policymakers are starting to hear them. As more and more research comes out about the importance of access to healthy foods, more funds are becoming available for research in the produce sector.

For example, in California, obesity and diabetes rates are 20% higher for those living in the least healthy “food environments,” controlling for household income, race/ethnicity, age, gender and physical activity levels, according to a study by The Food Trust, a nonprofit organization working to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, nutritious food. Those kinds of numbers have state, local and national organizations taking notice and freeing up funds for research into accessibility.

With the proper funding for CEA research, growers are able to find the technology they need to move produce growing operations where they’re needed most.

In this month’s cover story, you’ll meet three produce pioneers who are breaking down the barriers fresh produce access. In New York, Erico Mattos, executive director of Greenhouse Lighting and Systems Engineering, is working to find ways to reduce energy consumption (and costs) in the greenhouse so that growers can improve their outputs.

And in St. Louis, Olivia Engel is working to make produce more affordable and accessible for her hometown’s residents. As small farms become less and less viable, she sees CEA as a way to fill the gap for fresh fruits and vegetables.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, Marguex Bouwkamp is putting fresh greens on the table and empowering the next generation of growers the skills they’ll need to continue that work for years to come.

Success for each of these industry professionals looks somewhat similar, despite their distinct endeavors: Increasing the consumption of fresh produce. Whether it’s growing more, growing smarter or growing their customer base, the end goal is the same – more healthy food on dinner tables everywhere.

Kate Spirgen, Editor | kspirgen@gie.net | 216-393-0277