Food production in remote locations / by Greg Gallinger

Anna Mehler Paperny, writing for the Globe and Mail

Researchers have figured out how to build high-tech, winter-resistant vegetative incubators. The hard part is making northern greenhouses capable of supporting themselves financially. That means operating year-round, employing locals and selling enough produce to break even.

I'm currently reading 2312, a novel by Kim Stanley Robinson, in which humans have created self-sustainable colonies all over the solar system, from Mercury to carved out asteroids. I realize the year 2312 is quite a ways away, however even now as I type this NASA is working on ways of producing food in controlled environments in preparation for future manned missions to Mars.

Ramit Plushnick-Masti, writing for the Associated Press:

One option Cooper and her staff in the Johnson Space Center in Houston are considering is having the astronauts care for a "Martian greenhouse." They would have a variety of fruits and vegetables — from carrots to bell peppers — in a hydroponic solution, meaning they would be planted in mineral-laced water instead of soil. The astronauts would care for their garden and then use those ingredients, combined with others, such as nuts and spices brought from Earth, to prepare their meals.1

If we can develop the technology and sustain the resources necessary for colonizing planetary bodies other than Terra Prime, than I have complete confidence that providing high quality reasonably priced produce for communities in the far north is well within the realm of possibility.

Anna Mehler Paperny, again from the Globe and Mail

One of the biggest hurdles is making this more than just a government handout that’s airlifted in and withers when federal funding runs out. Planners hope greenhouses will help communities to feed and employ themselves, creating a local food initiative far outside the natural terrain of the produce they grow. “I don’t see government subsidizing this in the long haul,” said agri-environment technical director Larry Lenton, who is spearheading the project. “This has to stand on its own.”

I get the need to have these greenhouses be sustainable without years of government subsidies. Yet, I find the emphasis on the fact that the government is not willing to devote much money to keeping the project alive suspicious given the fact that the same government has been subsidizing the asbestos export industry and are well known for their support of the oil industry. Compared to those massive and environmentally destructive industries, greenhouses seem like a much more worthy source of government money.

1Fun fact: menu options for astronauts headed to Mars will be strictly vegan because meat and dairy have proven to be too difficult to preserve on long voyages.