Time is just part of the problem, Davis explains, as she prepares Sunday dinner in her cheerful kitchen. Tonight she’s making fried chicken wings with bottled barbecue sauce; yellow rice from a box; black beans from a can; broccoli; and carrots, cooked in olive oil and honey. A home-cooked dinner doesn’t happen every night. On weeknights, everyone gets home, exhausted—and then there’s homework. Several nights a week, they get takeout: Chinese, or Domino’s, or McDonald’s. Davis doesn’t buy fruits and vegetables mostly because they’re too expensive, and in the markets where she usually shops, they’re not fresh. “I buy bananas and bring them home and 10 minutes later they’re no good…Whole Foods sells fresh, beautiful tomatoes,” she says. “Here, they’re packaged and full of chemicals anyway. So I mostly buy canned foods.”
Sixty-gallon rain barrels are available for about $100 from various regional non-profits working on water conservation and pollution (in the DC area, from the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin: http:///cms/?option=com_content&view=article&id=50&Itemid=69 ). You can also get larger tank-style ones for under $500 (a better deal if you are planning to buy more than four of the 60-gallon types). They will fill with each rain (one inch of rain drops about 600 gallons on a typical roof) and might tip the balance regarding watering. I use water from ours for watering the indoor plants as well.
In addition, other elements conspire to take away from the harvest for which we worked so hard to produce. Despite the best application of modern agricultural practices, an unavoidable portion of what is grown rots in the fields prior to harvest time, or in the world’s storage bins afterwards. Every year, depending upon geographic location and intensity of El Niño events, crops suffer from too little water and wither on the spot, or are lost to severe flooding, hailstorms, tornados, earthquakes, hurricanes, cyclones, fires, and other destructive events of nature. Many of these phenomena are at best difficult to predict, and at worst are impossible to react to in time to prevent the losses associated with them. In sub-Saharan Africa, locusts remain an ever-present threat (42), and can devastate vast areas of farmland in a matter of days. Even after a bumper crop is realized, problems associated with processing and storage lessen the actual tonnage that is available to the consumer. A large portion of the harvest, regardless of the kind of plant or grain, is despoiled or a portion consumed by a variety of opportunistic life forms (., fungi, bacteria, insects, rodents) after being stored. While it is conceded that at present the abundance of cash crops is more than sufficient to meet the nutritional needs of the world’s human population, delivering them to world markets is driven largely by economics, not biological need. Thus, the poorest people – some billion – are forced to live in a constant state of starvation (43), with many thousands of deaths per year attributable to this wholly preventable predicament (44). Locating vertical farms near these human “hot spots” would greatly alleviate this problem.