Nation's First Vegan-Certified Farm Is Booming in Philly
As new vertical farms continue to open across the nation, a South Philly warehouse is churning out fresh, local produce 365 days a year and cutting the distance food needs to travel to get to local restaurants, grocery stores and plates.
Metropolis Farms is not only the first indoor hydroponic vertical farm in Philadelphia, it's the first vegan-certified farm in the nation and the only known vertical farm to operate on the second floor of a building.
"The landlord had faith in us to let us put thousands of pounds of water over his head and prove that it wouldn't leak," Metropolis Farms president Jack Griffin told NewsWorks. "That makes it possible for others to try it. Proving it by showing it is a different thing from just talking about it."
A vegan farm means no pesticides, herbicides, animal manure and animal bi-products. The company boasts that they were certified under the rigorous standards of the American Vegetarian Association.
"According to the CDC, green leafy vegetables grown in manure is one of the top sources of food poisoning," Griffin told Philly.com. To prevent pests, the farm places carnivorous plants between the towers to lure and kill bugs.
Using artificial lighting, climate control and other patented farming techniques, stacks of plants flourish in tall towers inside the South Water Street building (that's located "just minutes from the south Philly Italian market made famous in the Rocky movies," as the venture points out on their website). The farm also reduces its energy output through the use of robotics and hopes to transition to solar energy soon.
Metropolis Farms grows herbs, greens, tomatoes and more crops year round in a very small space—about 120,000 plants in only 36 square feet—and with a lot less water by using hydroponics. The farm claims to use 98 percent less water since it just recirculates and 82 percent less energy compared to conventional and organic farms.
“The innovation here is density, as well as energy and water conservation,” Griffin told Technically Philly. “We can grow more food in less space using less energy and water. The result is that I can replace 44,000 square feet with 36 square feet. When you hear those numbers, it kind of makes sense.”
Vertical farms, as EcoWatch has mentioned previously, are sprouting up around the world from densely packed Japanese cities to perpetually wintry Jackson, Wyoming. These green hubs are growing crops in places where traditional agriculture would have been impossible. Proponents say indoor farming is a solution to extreme weather caused by climate change and can be a response to global food shortages. As the company notes on their website:
When you consider that agriculture is the number one cause of global warming, it’s not hard to understand that our systems are not only a better way to grow but clearly the future of farming. We live in the real world, the one where the population is rapidly increasing and less usable farmland and fresh water is available worldwide every year. Our food is grow in the same communities where it’s sold so our food doesn’t have to travel 3,000 miles or more to keep our city populations to be fed in the winters. We recycle our nutrients instead of allowing them to seep into our water table. Our protected indoor environments enable our crops eliminate the risk of soil transmitted lead, arsenic and other heavy metals, in addition to soil transmitted bacterial infections and diseases. Our produce is protected from harmful pests or the dangers of natural disasters like the California drought or unpredictable weather events. We create local living wage jobs that do something worthwhile with our efforts, namely feeding people.
That's the big picture, of course. For Metropolis Farms, the small picture is important, too.
"We want to show that the [urban vertical] tech was adaptable," NewsWorks quoted Griffin. "How much available space, like nooks, second-floor space, gets wasted, or never offers a job? Growing a significant amount of food in an economically viable model means we can bring artesian farmers back, and that anybody can do this. With a lot of the vertical farming out there, I see the very sophisticated equipment, and I think it must cost so much. But they're over-engineering it. The average person can do this. The goal is to make it simple."
Crops can be plucked at peak freshness and delivered the same day to maximize freshness and nutrition, the company touts on their website, adding that instead of food miles they actually measure food minutes from harvest.
Griffin told Technically Philly that his vision “is to have communities start to embrace and use our open source technology to create small farms everywhere so that people can enjoy fresh produce year round at a fraction of the cost and with lower energy consumption than traditional farms.”
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The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.
On Friday, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency.
France has sent a military aircraft carrying pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Reunion to help mitigate the disaster. Additionally, Japan has sent a six-member team to assist as well, the BBC reported.
The teams are working to pump out the remaining oil from the ship, which was believed to be carrying 4,000 metric tons of fuel.
"We are expecting the worst," Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said on Monday, The Weather Channel reported. "The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days. So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton."
Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.
By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.
The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.
"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.
While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.
"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.
Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.
Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.
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There are trillions of microplastics in the ocean — they bob on the surface, float through the water column, and accumulate in clusters on the seafloor. With plastic being so ubiquitous, it's inevitable that marine organisms, such as sharks, will ingest them.
Polyproylene fibers found in one of the sampled sharks. Kristian Parton
Spiny dogfish. NOAA / Wikimedia Commons<p>"There appear to be two routes for these particles to end up in the sharks," Parton said. "The first through their food source [such as] crustaceans. Their prey may already contain these fibers, and consequently it's passed to the shark through bioaccumulation up the food chain. The second pathway is direct ingestion from the sediment. As these sharks feed, they'll often suck up sediment into their mouths, some of this is expelled straight away, although some is swallowed, therefore fibers and particles that may have sunk down into the seabed may be directly ingested from the surrounding sediment as these sharks feed."</p><p>Some sharks only contained a few plastic particles, but others contained dozens. The larger the shark, the more plastic was in it, the findings suggested. The highest number of microplastics was found in an individual bull huss, which had 154 polypropylene fibers inside its stomach and intestines.</p><p>"It's perhaps likely this individual shark had swallowed a larger piece of fishing rope/netting and this has broken down during digestive processes within the shark, and also broken down into smaller pieces during our analysis," Parton said.</p>
Lesser-spotted dogfish caught as bycatch. Kristian Parton<p>While this study only examined the stomach and digestive tracts of demersal sharks, Parton says it's possible that plastic would be present in other parts of the sharks' bodies, such as the liver and muscle tissue. However, more research would be needed to prove this.</p><p>At the moment, there is also limited understanding of how microplastic ingestion would impact a shark's health, although microplastics are known to negatively influence feeding behavior, development, reproduction and life span of zooplankton and crustaceans.</p><p>"If we can show that these fibers contain inorganic pollutants attached to them, then that could have real consequences for these shark species at a cellular level, impacting various internal body systems," Parton said.</p>
Parton in the lab. Kristian Parton<p>This new study demonstrates how pervasive and destructive plastic pollution can be in the marine environment, according to Will McCallum, head of oceans for Greenpeace U.K.</p><p>"Our addiction to plastics combined with the lack of mechanisms to protect our oceans is suffocating marine life," McCallum said in a statement. "Sharks sit on top of the marine food web and play a vital role in ocean ecosystems. Yet, they are completely exposed to pollutants and other human impactful activities. We need to stop producing so much plastic and create a network of ocean sanctuaries to give wildlife space to recover. The ocean is not our dump, marine life deserves better than plastic."</p>
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By Loveday Wright and Stuart Braun
After a Japanese-owned oil tanker struck a reef off Mauritius on July 25, a prolonged period of inaction is threatening to become an ecological disaster.
<div id="bb0a7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e5aefc0fff61ab1aea2f4b03c5399864"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1291765757013983238" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">The #oilspill is devastating but I want to honour the community mobilisation at the Mahebourg waterfront today (to… https://t.co/UWFkZFdjdi</div> — Fabiola Monty (@Fabiola Monty)<a href="https://twitter.com/LFabiolaMonty/statuses/1291765757013983238">1596815930.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"Booms are made of nylon mesh filled with #sugarcane straws all hand-stitched by Mauritian volunteers, empty plastic bottles used as buoys," described Mauritian journalist Zeenat Hansrod in a tweet. </p>
How to Tackle Oil Spills<p>The method for tackling oil spills depends on several factors, including the type and amount of oil in question, location and weather conditions.</p><p>"Once the oil comes to shore, the more intensive the cleaning technique. You can risk causing further damage," said Nicky Cariglia, an independent consultant at Marittima, who specializes in marine pollution. </p><p>"If you wanted to remove all traces of oil, the techniques available become increasingly aggressive the less oil that remains. In mangroves, you would have the added risk of causing damage by trampling," Cariglia told DW. Highly sensitive mangrove ecosystems line the Mauritius east coast that is threatened by the current spill.</p><p>Because oil normally has a lower density than water, it floats on the surface of the ocean. This means that for clean-up action to be most effective, it should happen very quickly after a spill, before the oil disperses. </p>
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