Patrons at a few Tel Aviv restaurants may have noticed their lettuce has a strange new taste recently: the taste of freshness. Two Tel Aviv restaurants are serving up lettuce that was grown in floating beds of water on the rooftop of Dizengoff Center, in an innovative new urban gardening system that aims to provide city dwellers with straight-from-the-farm veggies.
“People are used to lettuce tasting a certain way, after it’s been sitting in a bag in the refrigerator for a week,” said Mendi Falk, the 42-year-old director of Green in the City, a hydroponics project in the center of downtown Tel Aviv. “With hydroponics, the lettuce is harvested just 15 minutes earlier. It has a different taste.”
Falk runs his 100 square meter farm, which supplies leafy vegetables for two restaurants and a farmer’s market in Dizengoff Center, on the roof of Tel Aviv’s central mall with just three hours of labor per week and 120 watts of power (the average household light bulb is 60 watts). He utilizes a number of different hydroponics systems, which means that his vegetables grow while floating in a special blend of water and fertilizer.
There is no dirt whatsoever. There’s also no weeding, no extra watering or fertilizing processes, and no pesticide spraying.
Israel has a long history of hydroponics, especially for leafy vegetables, because it helps avoid the presence of pests that make the produce non-kosher; usually, supervised bug-free leafy vegetables are expensive and laden with pesticides. The Green in the City project wants to utilize hydroponics as a way to incorporate agriculture into dense urban environments.
According to the UN, 54% of the world’s population currently lives in cities, and this is expected to increase to 66% by 2050, when more than six billion people will live in urban environments. As city living becomes more and more widespread, the world needs to figure out how to grow enough food to feed those people who do not have their own land and do not grow their own food.
Hydroponics has a number of advantages over traditional agriculture in urban environments. The most prevalent, of course, is the small space requirement. With the floating rafts, Falk can grow four times the vegetables that would be possible in the same amount of space in the ground. For the vertical pipes pictured above, he can grow eight times the amount of vegetables in a traditional garden. This is because the special blend of nutrients and fertilizer added to the water goes straight to the roots of the plants, so the plants can grow closer together. The systems also use significantly less water – about 20% of the amount plants in the ground would require.
One interesting aspect of using hydroponic vegetables means that restaurants can store their produce in water and use just what they need for the day, reducing waste from unused vegetables. This also means that salads will have components harvested literally moments before they arrive on customers’ plates.
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