hydroponic towerAs I travel about the country visiting rural areas it is obvious that many of these small towns are dying. Big agriculture has undermined the small farm economy that used to support them, extraction industries have fallen on hard times, and manufacturing has moved out in search of a larger, cheaper work force. With too few people to support a service economy it is not clear what can be done to revitalize vast areas of the country.

But stories like this one from West Virginia provide a clue if not an answer:

In the parking lot of the Five Loaves and Two Fishes Food Bank in McDowell County, squash and basil are growing in 18 tall white towers without any dirt. It’s a farming method called hydroponics. The vegetables sprout from tiny holes as water and nutrients flood the roots.

Joel McKinney built this hydroponic garden because it produces a lot of food yet takes up just a little space.

“So like for right here I can grow 44 plants, whereas somebody growing in the ground can only grow four,” McKinney says. “So I want to do as much vertical space as I can and really amaze people with the poundage of food, because I’m growing up instead of out.”…

“People have the ability to grow their own food. I want to help them learn to market their product and earn some money,” he says. “Like people who quilt or make necklaces, the same thing with growing food — people have just never seen it as a marketable skill.”

Obviously not a global solution to a global problem. But revitalizing local agriculture even on a small scale is a start.