When I was young, I just knew that real life must be like a good game of Monopoly. Yes, some bad things happened, but you got another turn after you lost most of your money and/or properties, and I looked forward to the next roll of the dice and pull of the cards that gave you all the “extras” back again. It was exciting!
Although I have always loved a good game of chance, and have kept all my enthusiasm for the next thing around the corner in life, I have changed my mind about life being like Monopoly. It now feels more like a shootin’ match where I am the target and the ammo has become the health and environmental challenges that threaten not only my quality of life, but my very existence.
I’ve discovered that I, like all of us, have something very in common with this planet on which we live – as time passes, there are increasing issues, both personally and environmentally, that put our existence in danger. In the case of our planet, unfortunately we are the ones who have introduced these elements – pollution, waste, over-farming, chemicals, pesticides, and so many other ways.
We, like our planet, can also experience threats to our well-being. All of us baby-boomers are in the throes of coping with old age – and we dominate the population numbers. And if you are not of this generation, then your parents are and you watch them as they struggle with various health challenges. Not many of my generation can choose not to play this game of having age-related illness. It’s more like we get thrown into the geriatric arena and problems start aiming at us in all directions! A no win situation? Not at all! Grab a bow and start shooting! You still have many good days ahead and can take control of your game. Let’s make now the best time of our lives!
First things first - attitude is everything. Decide that you will take control of your game. Since nutrition is the first and last thing we deal with on a daily basis, this is a stellar place to start. Healthy eating can not only ward off some of the arrows of illness, but improve the quality of life for those of us who have had to cope with the various treatments prescribed to keep our game going.
In my case, almost ten years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. This came as quite the blow. I had been healthy all my life up to then, even missing out on the common childhood ailments. Obviously, adjustments had to be made to strengthen my immune system as the drugs that were supposed to save my life actually took some away from me as they did their work. I started with organic foods. Get rid of the additives, I thought, the insecticides, pesticides, and herbicides – these couldn’t help anything as lots of them are carcinogenic. That was a good start.
Eat more whole, fresh foods than processed foods – lots of vitamins are lost in the canning/processing of those foods. Fresh fruit and vegetables are “nutrient dense” and loaded with essential vitamins. I was getting there and starting to feel a bit better about being able to cope with my health problems and the side effects.
Then I was introduced to the science of hydroponics, the art of growing food in nutrient-rich water instead of using soil, and my quest for good nutrition took a giant leap forward! As I talked with experts, I found that food grown hydroponically contains higher levels of vitamins and minerals than those grown traditionally in soil.
My own research yielded a study by the University of Arizona showing that tomatoes grown hydroponically can contain increased levels of lycopene, an antioxidant that can help ward off cancer. (Lycopene is responsible for the red color in tomatoes.) In fact, all hydroponically grown produce has increased nutritional value over those grown in soil - the plants are in an environment allowing them to grow to their genetic potential, producing the highest quality possible.
But the real eye-opener was the flavor! I was simply amazed at how great the food tasted! Romaine lettuce had a peppery “bite” to it, green beans tasted sweet! The decision to eat more vegetables was wise, but now I actually wanted even more of them just because they tasted so good! Culinary herbs like basil, parsley, and tarragon smelled fresh and strong and it didn’t take much of them to turn my cooking into a gourmet experience.
All this was great as my appetite needed severe coaxing during chemotherapy and my taste buds couldn’t recognize the normal food I was eating as anything much more than cardboard. The enhanced smells and flavors stimulated my appetite and gave me more of a normal dining experience. I really needed, and wanted, “normal” as much as possible during that time. Working with the plants provided me with physical and mental therapy as I got an opportunity to shift my attention to something other than myself while nurturing the plants.
I was “hooked on hydro” and have spent many years teaching the art and science of hydroponics to students in my science classes and anyone else who would listen! There’s nothing like coming into the house, stomping the snow off my feet, and going down into the tropical paradise in my basement to work in my hydroponic garden. Just think, you don’t have to wait until spring and summer to enjoy the benefits of gardening! As my hands-on experience grew, so did my understanding of just how simple and easy it was to grow a year-round, indoor supply of healthy, nutritious food. As I interacted with others who grew foods using hydroponics, the list of justifications for using hydroponics was exponentially growing.
Let’s look at this while focusing on the impact it has for our world. Hydroponic farming is quickly growing world-wide for a variety of reasons. Some of the leading countries in the world using commercial hydroponics include Australia, Holland, Israel, New Zealand, England, Mexico, and the U.S.
- Hydroponic farming conserves water use, making it perfect for countries where water is critically limited.
- It allows farmers to grow healthier crops in limited spaces without using chemicals and pesticides.
- The yields from hydroponics are greater, and the cutting edge technology is making hydroponic farming economically attractive.
- The flavors are gourmet quality and shelf-life is increased.
Imagine the impact on our world as hydroponic food production continues to grow in our country! Remember, small steps add up, and the environmental impact just from hydroponic farming alone is a new and tremendous asset for our world.
One of the biggest arguments against using hydroponics is the fact that most people practice a “drain-to-waste” method. During routine water changes, used nutrient solution is simply put down the drain to infiltrate into local water systems. Increased nutrients in waterways can cause algae bloom that can kill off whole species of living organisms and change the natural environmental balance.
But there are other choices here that can help provide a solution and create a soft environmental footprint. Closed-loop, re-circulating systems that employ the use of passive water cleaning systems, such as biofilters or sand filters, is not only non-polluting, but can also save hundreds of gallons of water and nutrients a year.
Also, used nutrient solution is amazing when used on outdoor gardens and indoor house plants! That way, the remaining nutrients are used by other plants and risk of pollution by runoff is greatly reduced. (Some of my entrepreneurially-minded students would bottle the remnants and sell a gallon to mom now and then for a couple of extra bucks…)
Another concern is the energy draw created by using the high-intensity discharge (HID) lighting required by some plants. Nowadays, less energy-intensive light choices can be made, such as high output florescent T-5 fixtures that do pretty well for most plants. Combined with alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind power, lighting becomes very economically viable. Your lighting expense need not break your bank account or limit your reasons for growing hydroponically!
If you’re not convinced yet, consider these other benefits:
- Hydroponic systems eliminate the need for weeding, hoeing, and getting up and down from the ground - systems can be adjusted to wheel chair heights for the physically disabled.
- Older people have reduced numbers of taste buds which decreases their ability to taste food. The increased amount of essential oils in herbs grown in hydroponics can stimulate their sense of taste and increase their desire to consume food, in turn increasing their quality of life and ability to thrive.
- The ability to maintain a garden is the first thing an older person loses upon entering a nursing home or skilled nursing facility. (Gardening is the number one hobby of older Americans.) Hydroponics offers them a chance to continue a life-long hobby without the physical stressors.
- Hydroponics can address the issue of “food deserts” in inner-city, urban areas where fresh food can be a hard-to-find commodity. It can be done in empty warehouses or rooftops, providing a use for brown-field properties (property whose soil is contaminated by industrial chemical spills and other contaminants).
- Systems can be made out of common materials found at your local hardware. You are only limited by your imagination once you know the basic system components. Hydroponic systems need not be expensive to build.
So far, I am winning this game of life! Next summer I will celebrate my 10th-year anniversary of being cancer free. I’m sure there are additional reasons for my survival, but I know that my choice to eat healthier and take control of my food source has played a crucial role, at least my doctors think so! Hydroponics has also continued to provide me with many hours of gratifying activity. From an environmental perspective, it also makes me feel great that I’m not only taking care of my own health, but the health of this glorious planet on which we live.
Hydroponics - try it for yourself. You have nothing to lose and everything to win!