Is This The Future of Food?
That is the headline in the Daily Mail, as it covers "plant factories" in Japan, growing vegetables
"In a perfectly controlled and totally sterile environment - uncontaminated by dirt, insects or fresh air....Every part of the plant's environment is controlled - from the lighting and temperature, to the humidity and water. Even the levels of carbon dioxide can be minutely altered. Rather than the conventional scruffy clothes and dirty fingernails of vegetable growers, the producers wear gloves, surgical masks and sort of dust proof protective suits normally seen in chemical plants."
But what is really going on?
click here for video on BBC
We covered this earlier in our post Steel Factory Reinvents Itself, Now Grows Lettuce. It is a steel cable factory, where former steelworkers tend to the lettuce. "The company expects the solution will save the business and help it survive the downturn."
Fuminori Sato for The New York Times
In fact, it is part of a government strategy to minimize unemployment. Hiroko Tabuchi writes in the New York Times about another factory:
When the sheet metal orders coming into his small business, High Metal, fell by half last October, it never occurred to Masaaki Taruki to lay off his workers.
Instead, he set about brainstorming new projects to occupy them. An indoor vegetable garden? A handicrafts workshop?
Because of government subsidies, Mr. Taruki in the last three months installed rows of parsley, watercress and other plants, using factory space that has been empty since the company disposed of unused machinery. High Metal's staff tend the sprouts religiously, topping up the water supply, adding fertilizer and adjusting the fluorescent lights.
Mr. Taruki feels for his workers in a way employers don't in North America: "It's the responsibility of companies to protect jobs, to grow them."
But is the future of food going to involve massive subsidies to convert steel plants to hydroponic lettuce production under fluorescent lights and charge Japanese-style prices for it? I certainly hope not.