That's a lot of friggin' lettuce
These days, Sweetgrass and I are trying to raise as much of our own food as possible while re-claiming an old farmstead in the foothills of western Maine. This winter has been amazingly mild, conveniently allowing me to finish lots of projects ignored for far too long 'cuz I've been wicked busy. Cut and stacked seven cord. Winterized the chicken shack. Burned brush piles. And the day before yesterday, I removed the plastic cover from our 20 foot long hoop house. The New Year's cold snap finally killed the kale. Wilted and sad, I ate a last couple leaves before the roaming gang of a dozen hens discovered the bounty and took over, scratching and pecking in joy. Winter greens. Such a luxury.
That's why I think a proposal being floated in Windham to build 37 acres of greenhouse space to grow lettuce, fish, herbs and tomatoes is absolutely nuts. Part of eating locally is feasting on seasonal fare or getting your chow out of the root cellar, pantry or freezer. While you can grow greens, practically year round, in a greenhouse scenario this large, you gotta supplement with heat, lights, air exchange, etc. And all that has a major carbon impact, including the natural gas they want to pipe to the place. Plus the construction carbon boot-print and the carbon commuter-print of 170 workers (and the wear and tear on the roads) and that salad suddenly becomes personally responsible for melting a glacier.
The proposal also touts the potential wonders of raising fish in the greenhouses. Run far away from that one, Windham. Number one question: what are you gonna do with all the fish shit? Number two question: where you gonna get all the water for this operation?
I'm always wary of people who get into food production thinking it's a way to makes lots of money. I wish reporters would use calculators when interviewing dreamers for stories. Especially when town officials toss around numbers like $100 million to get the whole thing going. That's a lot of fancy lettuce to sell before you even make a dime. Like 10 million pounds at a super-good price. Yikes.
And we gotta be cautious whenever inviting large-scale mono-culture into our backyards. Monoculture attracts hordes of pests. So the grower fights 'em with poison and chemo-killers. No doubt about it, industrial farming is dirty. That's why I feel so lucky to be living in Maine. Here, we have plenty of opportunities to buy local food, year-round, from good and reputable folks who care about the morsels they produce.