In 2007, the New Oxford American Dictionary dubbed “locavore” the “2007 Word of the Year,” adding the term to its pages and solidifying the local food movement as a piece of American culture. From a grassroots beginning to dictionary recognition to being spoofed on sketch comedies like “Portlandia” (“Ah [the chicken’s] name was Colin. Here are his papers.”), eating local is a trend that’s here to stay.
More than 10 years after the concept’s introduction, the emphasis on locally grown foods remains prominent. According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2018 Culinary Forecast, a focus on local foods occupies two of the top 10 concept trends, with “hyperlocal” claiming the highest spot (think chefs using restaurant gardens) and locally sourced produce coming in at No. 8.
So what nutritional benefits does local food offer and how does Skyscraper Farm distinctively provide those benefits?
First, let’s look at the national and global landscape of healthy eating behaviors. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, fewer than 20 percent of Americans consume the daily recommended amount of vegetables (2.5 cup-equivalents for a 2000-calorie diet) and fewer than 30 percent of Americans consume the daily recommended amount of fruits (2 cup-equivalents for a 2000-calorie diet). Yet research consistently shows that increased fruit and vegetable consumption is part of a healthy eating plan, influential in weight loss and in lowering the risk of a variety of chronic diseases (cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers).
Global intake of fruits and vegetables also falls short of recommendations, and in 2016, 3.88 million deaths were attributed to a diet low in fruits and vegetables according to an analysis of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. Additionally, even if the global population adhered completely to the Dietary Guidelines, growth to support such demand would require an additional 3.86 million square miles (roughly the size of Canada) of fertile land using current agricultural methods.
Enter Skyscraper Farm. With vertical farming practices utilizing sunlight instead of artificial light, Skyscraper Farm is uniquely positioned to sustainably combat the land-deficit problem while providing local, nutrient-rich produce.
With current consumption habits in mind, Skyscraper Farm provides two important shifts offering health benefits. The first relates to access. Skyscraper Farm increases access to healthy food, allowing consumers to make healthier choices. As explained in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, environment strongly impacts people’s eating behaviors. These behavior changes may require additional resources such as nutrition education, but increased access through sunlight-driven vertical farming provides the option to select healthier items, which is a necessity when implementing a healthy eating plan.
The second shift that Skyscraper Farm provides relates to diet quality. When a fruit or vegetable is harvested at peak ripeness, the nutrient content is at its highest. When grown and sold locally, farmers can pick fruits and vegetables at peak ripeness and quickly bring them to market. Conversely, when fruits and vegetables are shipped a longer distance, harvesting occurs earlier than peak ripeness to reduce chances of bruising or overripening during storage and transportation. Those fruits and vegetables never reach their full potential for nutrient content. Additionally, fruits and vegetables are subject to nutrient degradation once harvested related to the effects of temperature, light, oxygen and water within storage and transport environments. The longer the timespan from harvest to table, the greater the vitamin, mineral and water content decreases.
As Skyscraper Farm increases accessibility to healthy food while improving the nutrient content of those foods, people within the community will be better equipped to increase fruit and vegetable intake, reaping the benefits of vitamins and minerals that aid in reducing the risk of chronic diseases. As access to fruits and vegetables becomes as common and convenient as access to less healthy foods, the potential for positive nutrition behavior change increases. Local, sun-ripened fruits and vegetables picked at their peak, offering the highest quality in nutrition and taste, will land on plates shortly after harvest, providing the nutrient-dense options that fall within a healthy eating pattern. Locavores, rejoice.
• Courtney Millen, MNSP, RD, is chief operating officer at Skyscraper Farm LLC. She is founder and lead dietitian of Palate Theory (palatetheory.com) and has worked professionally in food-service management, provided evidence-based nutrition counseling and conducted nutrition workshops in academic and military settings. Follow her on Twitter @palatetheory.
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