Saturday, September 14, 2013

Growing Bananas on Ice

Yesterday, this ancient agricultural landscape and I met once again, as I stepped foot on Sicilian soil. While most of this first day was spent fasting, in contemplation, the bounty available as I went to break bread was astounding. From light and fruity grapes to unfamiliar melons to curly zucchini, there was plenty to choose from. This was not quite the case a few days back, where the Icelandic climate does not readily support such exotic produce. 

However, driving around southern Iceland, I came across a curious site - rows of greenhouses. This seemed out of place in a country where summer temperatures don't break 50F, and much of the region is situated on volcanic rock and soils. My first reaction was one of utter disbelief and near disgust. Why use all this energy to produce food in a country only meant to raise livestock and perhap grow the odd root crop? But I was intrigued, nonetheless.

In fact, the country has used geothermal energy to heat greenhouses and provide fresh fruit and veg to their citizens for about 90 years (and grown potatoes in thermal hotspots since the 1870's)! This means that icelanders have access to fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce, grown with the Earth's natural heat, year-round. Even crazier is that they are growing the less likely suspects, like bananas, coffee, and figs! And while the country may have one of the highest per capita energy intensities in the world, unlike industrial activities like mining greenhouses directly use a renewable energy source, making agriculture only a tiny sliver of emissions.

So while I am now sitting comfortably in the Mediterranean, munching the local, seasonal produce, my conception of what can be local and seasonal (and pretty darn sustainable) has experienced a bit of a shock. Will this mix of technology, innovation, and careful utilization of a country's natural resources prove adequate to maintaining such counterintuitive food production? I suppose only time will tell.

Wishing a reflective and meaningful Yom Kippur for those observing on its true calendar date.

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