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Technology intern, Nathan Bosket, tending plants growing indoors in OPCOM Farm hydroponic equipment.

Are the future farms of America also heading indoors?

The Las Vegas Valley, a place in the Mohave Desert that imports almost all of its food, has a population of over two million people and hosts 40 million annual visitors. According to the Governor's Office of Economic Development, Nevada's Tourism, Gaming, and Entertainment sector spends two billion dollars annually on the food supply chain outside the state. If just a fraction of these dollars were kept in state, it would provide more local jobs and boost the local economy. In addition, nearly one in six Nevadans are food insecure, meaning they don't know where their next meal will come from, and in some parts of the Las Vegas Valley, one in four people are food insecure. By keeping more food dollars in the state, food security can be addressed in numerous ways, from increased food access to increased job opportunities. A way to do this is through the growth of the indoor agriculture industry. Through the use of advanced growing technologies and resource management, it is possible for this rapidly growing desert metropolis to produce more of its own food and become more food secure.

Indoor agriculture technologies such as hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics, grow plants in nutrient-rich water instead of soil. These technologies typically use far less water than traditional farming methods as well as less pesticides, chemicals, and land. Hydroponic technologies allow the plants roots to grow in water, collecting nutrients as the water circulates through the system Aquaponics use a similar system to grow plants, but use fish waste as the nutrient source for the plants. These systems can also provide for the cultivation of fish. Aeroponics also use water to provide nutrients to growing plants, but they do it a little differently. Instead of submerging the plant's roots in water, the roots are sprayed with a mist of water and nutrients. These technologies help to conserve resources and promote sustainability, which is especially important in a desert climate.

These future farmers will have to start preparing for the future of our food. As people continue to move more towards urban living, farms will need to move to the cities as well. Technological advancements in green energy and energy storage will be able to provide the clean, renewable power needed to supply the electricity needs of growing food indoors. Advancements in water conservation and soilless farming can accommodate a growing agriculture industry without putting excessive pressure of limited water supplies. New educational programs can be integrated into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and CTE (Career and Technical Education) to train a highly-qualified workforce for this new Nevada economy outlined in Nevada's 2016 - 2020 Strategic Planning Framework. Moving in this direction can lead to equal access to fresh, healthy, and nutritious food for all Nevadans as describes in the Food Security in Nevada Action Plan.