Monday, August 1, 2011

Out Of The Shadows

Once part of illicit niche markets, hydroponics is finding new footing in the mainstream, fueled by a farm-to-table frenzy and fears of foodborne illnesses.

Twenty years ago, a wink and a nod was what it took for someone to get their hands on a hydroponically grown product, be it from a long-haired man in a dark alley or amid a sea of tie-dye at a Grateful Dead concert.

But today, hydroponics — the practice of growing plants in nutrient-rich water without soil, a technique long relegated to clandestine marijuana production — is emerging as the agricultural method of choice for gourmands and consumers alike.

Chefs say they prefer the control and higher quality hydroponics provides for their gourmet lettuce, herbs and other produce. Environmentally minded consumers are beginning to embrace the sustainability of hydroponics, since vegetables can be grown without harmful pesticides and herbicides while using up to 90 percent less water than traditional farming methods.

With more products cropping up at local farmer’s markets and in produce aisles across the nation, hydroponics is moving out of the shadows and into the mainstream, observers say. It’s even being eyed as a solution to feeding an overpopulated world as natural resources become increasingly scarce and as a way of sustaining human colonies that one day may inhabit Mars or the moon.

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