Should You Eat Hydroponic Produce?

April 29th, 2009

Ask VinQuestion: What are your thoughts on hydroponically grown produce? I was wondering how it compares to organically grown food.

Hydroponic farming is the process of growing plants inside a greenhouse with the use of a mineral solution instead of soil. With artificial lighting, you can even grow hydroponic produce right in your own home.

While hydroponic farming has several significant advantages, there’s no guarantee that the resulting food will be of equal quality to that which is grown in a more natural environment. The following information will help you evaluate if the advantages of hydroponically grown food justify this uncertainty.

The Advantages of Hydroponic Farming

Because hydroponic farming occurs in a controlled environment, hydroponically grown plants are less susceptible to disease and predation. Without the need for soil and without direct exposure to weather, hydroponic farming also provides the opportunity to grow plants during any time of the year and in areas where it would otherwise not be possible.

With the amount of pollution that exists today, even organic farms are exposed to toxic chemicals through rain, river water, underground water and wind. Because hydroponic crops are grown in a closed environment, they’re protected from these potential sources of pollution.

Proponents of hydroponic farming say that it increases crop yield and can even rival the food quality associated with organic farming. Some supporters even suggest that hydroponic farming is more environmentally friendly, but in my opinion, this is only valid in comparison to the conventional and unsustainable farming practices that include the use of toxic chemicals and continue to deplete soil until it can no longer be farmed.

Hydroponic vs Organic

Despite the controlled environment that hydroponic farming occurs in, pesticides and other chemicals are still commonly used. However, they’re typically used in smaller quantities than they are for conventional farming. While it’s possible to apply the principles of organic farming to hydroponics, many people who try to do so have a difficult time keeping their crops healthy.

According to the USDA website, hydroponic crops are eligible for USDA organic certification. As far as I know, there’s no requirement for certified organic produce that’s been hydroponically grown to be labeled as such. If you feel strongly about avoiding hydroponically grown food, buying from a source that you know and trust may be the only reliable way to avoid it.

Most people consider the most important aspect of organic food to be the lack of toxic chemicals. While this is certainly a very important characteristic of organic food, it’s also a shortsighted point of view. A deeper interpretation of organic farming implies that the growth of a plant should occur as it would in nature, not in a greenhouse with processed fertilizer solution. Anyone who values this nature driven perspective of organic farming is likely to regard hydroponic farming as a direct contradiction to it.

Underestimating Nature

In a natural environment, plants rely on the sun and the surrounding soil to grow strong and healthy. They are dependent on sunlight for photosynthesis and on the soil and it’s microorganisms for nutrients. While science has provided us with an amazing amount of knowledge about these dependencies, it would be naive to think that we could perfectly replicate them in a greenhouse. We may know a great deal about nature, but we don’t know everything. As such, there’s no guarantee that hydroponically grown produce contains all of the health building qualities that it would if grown under direct sunlight and in rich soil as nature intended.

Radiation from the sun, photosynthesis, mineral absorption, and interaction with microorganisms are all aspects of plant growth that are highly complex subject matters in their own right. Assuming that science can outsmart nature by adequately duplicating these factors in an artificial environment is a questionable proposition. While we may know everything necessary to do so, there’s a good chance that we don’t, and there’s also a good chance that it will have an impact on our health.

Conclusion

Whether or not you choose to eat hydroponic produce, it’s still important to make sure it’s certified organic.

Hydroponic farming definitely provides some notable advantages that may prove to be invaluable in the future. If conventional farming continues to rapidly deplete soil and decrease the amount of land that can be farmed, we may be forced to rely on hydroponic farming. However, while we still have good land to farm and responsible farmers who employ sustainable practices, I think organic farming on land is the best choice.

As long as it’s grown without artificial chemicals, my assumption is that hydroponic produce has the potential to be comparable in quality to naturally grown produce. If forced to choose between hydroponically or conventionally grown produce, I would definitely consider the former. However, I’d still make sure that the rest of my food came from the earth rather than a greenhouse.

It’s certainly possible that hydroponic farming is capable of producing food that’s healthy and perhaps even more nutritious than food that’s farmed on land, especially with the pollution problems we face today. Because hydroponic farming is a relatively new practice, we may very well go our entire lives without knowing for sure. As such, it’s ultimately a choice that you have to research and make for yourself.

Stay informed of new articles by email!