Harvesting basil and red leaf lettuce from an indoor hydroponic farm.
Nevada can play a lead role in the way we use technology to grow, harvest, transport, and prepare healthy, nutritious foods. The state’s food system is greatly influenced by the tourism industry, with hospitality, food and beverage accounting for roughly 58% of the state’s gaming revenue ($13.5 billion) in 2017. This type of demand for edible resources has placed Nevada at the forefront of agricultural innovation. According to a report from the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development, “Every year, Nevada’s Tourism, Gaming and Entertainment sector spends $2 billion on the food supply chain from outside the state. If locally grown food satisfies a small fraction of the $275 that the average Nevada visitor spends on food, it will be enough to create a sustainable indoor agriculture business model that benefits all Nevadans by keeping those dollars in the state.”
Southern Nevada is ideally positioned for food system renovation and has been the focus of several grant-funded projects including the Zion Garden Park Agricultural Assistance Program, which created an agricultural area in North Las Vegas to assist an underserved community by bringing fresh produce to its residents, and the City of Henderson’s Local Food, Local Places grant, which helped bring its community together to plan for a revitalization project built around the local food system. In addition, the Southern Nevada Strong Regional Plan contains several goals related to the food system and spurred the 2017 Southern Nevada Urban Agriculture and Food Sustainability Forum, which focused on food access, indoor agriculture, STEM education, and workforce development. In addition, the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill has added a research, education, and extension initiative for urban, indoor, and other emerging agricultural production methods to address, “exploring new technologies that minimize energy, lighting systems, water, and other inputs for increased food production,” and specifies the use of advanced, indoor agricultural technologies to include hydroponics, aeroponics, and aquaponics. These initiatives, events, and programs are supporting a healthier, sustainable, and more resilient food system for the region than was ever possible before.
This progressive movement happening towards local produce in the Las Vegas Metropolitan area means it is also necessary that an environmentally sustainable approach be taken. Resources are limited in the drought-stricken desert of Southern Nevada. The region is in the Mojave Desert and it receives 4.19 inches of rainfall annually, which is 89% less than the national average. This has lead to the integration of advanced resource conservation techniques in agriculture to grow produce and the methods that save the most water and energy are high-tech hydroponics. These technologies provide up to a 90% savings in water usage and significant energy savings through solar power and LED lighting. This makes hydroponics a pioneer and champion in the next wave of sustainable agricultural production. This is not only the future of how we will secure addition food resources, but also how the local food service industry will be transformed to accommodate healthier lifestyles and eating habits that can shape the way we interact with food. These hydroponic technologies can help local restaurants and chefs prepare food in ways that allow them to customize flavor profiles and work with specialty produce to create unique recipes. Restaurants can demonstrate this technology onsite, allowing customers to be more connected to their food experience. Instead of traditional farm-to-table dining where food is taken from the farm into the restaurant, a reality could be created where the farm is literally inside of the restaurant.