Smart fertilizers help farmers and fight climate change

July 9, 2019 by  
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Synthetic fertilizers aren’t great for natural ecosystems, but they do help farmers produce the crop yields needed to feed the world’s skyrocketing population. Since major chemical companies began pushing fertilizers, farmers have been spraying their fields and hoping for the best. Over the past two decades, however, controlled-release fertilizers have become available with high-precision release formulas that are not only better for the plants but are arguably better for the planet. Controlled release fertilizers contain nutrients in capsules instead of the soluble granules of conventional fertilizer. The capsules slow down the release of the nutrients, which gives the plant more time to absorb everything rather than having to take up the nutrients all at once. Recently, slow-release fertilizers have become even smarter. Companies like Haifa Group and ICL Specialty Fertilizers have capsules that release at different intervals depending on the soil conditions — such as temperature, acidity or moisture level. Related: Can vertical farming feed the world and change the agriculture industry? When combined with GPS sensors, soil quality mapping and artificial intelligence , precision farming technology can save farmers and neighboring ecosystems from serious fertilizer waste and pollution. A recent study by Michigan State University revealed that smart fertilizers also benefit the planet. According to the research, precision fertilizers and remote sensing technology could save 6.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere — the equivalent of 1.5 million cars per year. The technology they studied identifies a farmers’ most productive land using historical yield data and fertilizer rates. With this knowledge, large-scale farmers can focus crop production and fertilizer use on only the most productive land and reduce their use of fertilizers on land where the crops simply won’t perform as well. The researchers also suggest that farmers could use these least productive zones to develop “wild areas” specifically for important pollinators like the honeybee . “Nobody wins when fertilizer is wasted on areas that won’t produce,” the Michigan State researchers wrote in the published study . “Once farmers identify these areas, they can both save money and help the environment.” Via Scientific American Image via Binyamin Mellish

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Smart fertilizers help farmers and fight climate change

Leaked footage shows brutal animal abuse at Fair Oaks dairy farm

June 7, 2019 by  
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One of the largest dairy farms in the U.S. is under fire as leaked footage shows graphic animal abuse by farm workers at Fair Oaks. The farm and popular agriculture tour site was infiltrated by activists who were hired as workers and recorded the brutal treatment of calves. Founder and owner Mike McCloskey has pledged to fire remaining workers, improve animal welfare training and allow live streaming of the calves in the “Adventure” area, where about 500,000 annual visitors and school groups tour the farm every year. Related: How to choose the healthiest, most sustainable milk alternative Despite his promises, Fair Oaks has received considerable attention and backlash, including calls for boycotts and removal from shelves in Chicago and Indiana. However, it remains to be seen how much the massive corporation will clean up its act , and how many consumers will remember to spend their dollars elsewhere. According to McCloskey, the problem was bad employees who did not follow the animal welfare training guidelines. In a video statement , he said, “That was a terrible judgment on my part. The way I have to look at this is that as hard as we try, you can always end up with bad people within your organization, and this is what happened to us.” The video depicts workers kicking, punching and burning calves as they stuffed them into trucks or piled their dead bodies just out of sight of school field trips. “The difference between the Fair Oaks Farms Dairy Adventure and the reality of the dairy industry is night and day,” said Richard Couto, the founder of Animal Recovery Mission. “Everything is a lie.” The local police department is currently investigating the cases of animal abuse , and Fair Oaks’ founder has promised to increase video surveillance and hire a private auditor to make unannounced visits. While many are calling for a boycott of Fair Oaks and its associated Fairlife brand, some lawmakers and agriculture industry advocates argue that this was an isolated incident and that the boycott will cause people to lose jobs. + Animal Recovery Mission Via Journal and Courier Image via Shutterstock

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Leaked footage shows brutal animal abuse at Fair Oaks dairy farm

New York could become the first state to ban cat declawing

June 7, 2019 by  
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On Tuesday, New York lawmakers voted to ban cat declawing. If New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signs the bill, cats may be packing their little suitcases and moving to the first state to protect their claws by law. “Cat declawing is a horrific, yet often practiced surgery that leads to a lifetime of pain and discomfort for thousands of cats,” Democratic Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal of Manhattan told NPR . “Today, though, every cat and kitten in New York state lands on its feet as we prepare to make New York the best state for cats to live in the United States.” When cats are declawed, the vet removes part of the cat’s toe bones as well as the claws. Usually the surgery is only performed on the front feet, but sometimes claws are removed from all four paws. Pet owners often order this painful surgery to protect their furniture, and many command declawing as a requirement if the cat wants to live indoors. Adverse effects from declawing include back and joint problems, personality changes and litter box issues due to painful paws. Once their claws are removed, cats are unable to defend themselves nor to climb trees to escape predators, so they must stay inside forever. If the bill becomes law, the declawing procedure will still be performed for medical issues including injuries or infections. While many people and most cats were jubilant at the NY news, the bill is not without controversy. The New York State Veterinary Medical Society opposed the bill, arguing that pet owners who are diabetic, hemophiliac, immune-compromised or on immune suppressing medication are at great medical risk from cat scratches. They might be forced to relinquish their cats if declawing becomes illegal. According to the American Humane Society, about 71 percent of cats that enter shelters are euthanized. However, many other vets supported the bill, which passed on June 4, the annual New York State Animal Advocacy Day . This annual event is described on its Facebook page as “a bi-partisan event to further protect our companion pets from cruelty.” People who care more about couches than cats might consider adopting a pet rock instead. Via NPR Images via Teresa Bergen / Inhabitat and Flensshot

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New York could become the first state to ban cat declawing

Experts warn earths topsoil is almost gone

June 3, 2019 by  
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Nearly half of all the world’s top soil has disappeared over the last 150 years, despite its critical importance to our food supply. At least 95 percent of our global food supply relies on rich topsoil for production and the better the soil the more nutritious the food. Experts warn that without massive reformations to agriculture and city planning, we could run out of topsoil in the next 60 years. Intensive farming is the primary cause for the loss of topsoil. Soil that is exposed to elements like wind and rain is easily lost on farms that rely on chemical inputs to compensate for the lack of nutritious top soil. Other farming practices, like over-tilling, synthetic chemical use and lack of cover crops contributes to the degradation of soil as well. Related: Researchers rush to link toxic chemical to health concerns “We never want to see our soil unless we go looking for it,” says Keith Berns a farmer in Nebraska who advocates for the use of cover crops and no-till methods. Across the country, more and more farmers are switching to strategies that do not plow or till their land and are seeing more organic matter in their soil. Although not all farmers are sold on its benefits, the percentage of land using no-till methodology was up to 40 percent in 2017, a small but significant increase from just 32 percent in 2012. Similarly, the percentage of land with cover crops saw an increase of 50 percent from five years prior, which totals about 15 million acres of cover crop. Soil advocates are hopeful that state legislation and programs will further incentivize farmers to practice more responsible farming that maintains and replenishes soil . In Maryland and Virginia, for example, government grants helped encourage farmers to switch to cover crop systems and the benefits to the soil have been considerable. Via The Guardian Image via daeron

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Experts warn earths topsoil is almost gone

California restaurants add carbon emission surcharge

May 14, 2019 by  
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Sustainable restaurants in California are going a step further to stop climate change by adding a farm-to-table and back-to-farm-again surcharge that allows patrons to support climate smart farming practices within the state. This Fall, participating restaurants will begin adding the optional one percent surcharge intended to offset emissions by paying farmers to store carbon in healthy soil and vegetation . The initiative is a joint partnership by the Perennial Farming Initiative, the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the California Air Resources Board. So far, 25 restaurants have joined the program, with a total of 200 expected by the end of 2019. Related: Impossible Burgers are such a success, they might run out Globally, farms emit about 13 percent of all carbon emissions. In the U.S., California is an agriculture powerhouse and therefore has the potential to be a big part of the climate solution. In fact, one third of all vegetables in the U.S. come from California, as well as over two thirds of all fruits and nuts. “Farmers and ranchers have long been at the forefront of the battle against climate change ,” Karen Ross from the California Department of Food and Agriculture said in a press release . “This partnership is an opportunity for eaters and buyers to share in land-based solutions.” The primary concept of the fund is to support “carbon farming,” which encourages the storage of carbon in soil and vegetation. The fund would pay farmers $10 for every ton of carbon they successfully remove from the atmosphere. Examples of climate-smart practices include more gentle tilling, rotating crops, or composting . The surcharge is voluntary; however, customers have to explicitly ask their server to remove it from the bill– meaning that participating restaurants add it automatically. During the pilot at Mission Chinese in San Francisco, not a single customer opted out of the one percent surcharge. “This issue of climate change is obviously massive,” Chef Anthony Myint of Perennial Farming Initiative told KTVU , “future generations don’t have the chance to opt out.” Via The Guardian Image via Shutterstock

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Biodegradable tableware made from wheat bran debuts at Toronto’s Green Living Show

March 25, 2019 by  
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This week, Toronto citizens learned that wheat bran is good for more than enhancing digestive regularity. An innovative Polish company displayed its disposable, biodegradable tableware made from unprocessed wheat bran at Toronto’s Green Living Show. While an ordinary disposable plastic plate could take 500 years to break down, Biotrem’s tableware biodegrades through composting within a single month. They’re made from compressed wheat bran, a by-product of the cereal milling process. Biotrem can make up to 10,000 biodegradable plates and bowls from one ton of wheat bran. Related: Shellworks upcycles leftover lobster shells into biodegradable bioplastics The wheat bran tableware can handle hot or cold food, liquid or solids and is microwave-safe. From picnic spots to barrooms, the new biodegradable cups and plates could decrease landfill -bound garbage. Wheat farmer and miller Jerzy Wysocki devised the process of turning wheat bran into plates. Every time he milled wheat, Wysocki found himself with excess wheat bran. Through trial and error, he discovered that mixing the bran with water, then heating and pressurizing it resulted in a sturdy material. He started what would grow into Biotrem with a single machine that he built on his farm . Biotrem’s production plant in Zambrow can currently produce about 15 million biodegradable bowls and plates per year. They also make disposable cutlery, which combines wheat bran with fully biodegradable PLA bio-plastic. So far, Biotrem products are available in a dozen European countries, the U.S., Canada, South Korea and Lebanon. Transform Events & Consulting, based in Charlottestown, Prince Edward Island, distributes Biotrem products to the Canadian market. The event company introduced more consumers to wheat bran plates at this month’s Green Living Show at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. “As event organizers, we see just how much plastic waste is generated at events of all kinds, especially festivals,” said Mark Carr-Rollitt, owner of Transform Events & Consulting. “We are thrilled to partner with Biotrem to offer a well-designed, viable alternative to single use plastics.” Via Biotrem Images Biotrem

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Biodegradable tableware made from wheat bran debuts at Toronto’s Green Living Show

International Women’s Day Spotlight: Meet the 8 women leading the change for a better world

March 8, 2019 by  
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International Women’s Day is just one of the 365 days per year that it is important to recognize and celebrate the contributions and advancements female leaders have bestowed onto the environment, society and culture from around the world. While there are thousands of women who are fighting to help conserve and preserve our planet, below we highlight eight brave women from across the globe who are making headlines for their innovative impact in the environmental, conservation and sustainability fields. Melina Laboucan Massimo Indigenous Rights & Clean Energy Campaigner (Canada) Massimo , a member of the Lubicon Cree First Nation, grew up in a small community where the only jobs were in the oil and gas industry. Following a devastating oil spill that contaminated the water and land that her community depended on for generations, Massimo was inspired to take action. She is a Climate and Energy Campaigner with Greenpeace, journalist, film producer and an indigenous rights activist. She advocates for a equitable transition to clean and renewable energy sources that prioritize local jobs, ownership and environmental protection. Related: Women are essential to climate resilience in the Caribbean — here’s why Vandana Shiva Food Sovereignty Advocate (India) Shiva is an eco-activist and agroecologist who focuses on sustainable agriculture , local food systems and the working conditions of farm workers in India. She is a vocal opponent of genetically modified organisms and her work has helped preserve and prioritize indigenous seed diversity and traditional knowledge. Forbes named Shiva one of the Seven Most Powerful Women on the Globe. Christiana Figueres U.N. Leader and Climate Optimist (Costa Rica) Christiana Figueres was the driving force behind the monumental Paris Agreement of 2015, in which 195 nations signed on to legally-binding, time-bound commitments to reduce carbon emissions and limit global warming . After serving as the Executive Secretary for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change from 2010 to 2016, Figueres turned her attention to speaking, writing and advising major companies on climate sustainability. Figueres also leads Mission 2020 and Global Optimism, organizations focused on making the world’s ambitious climate visions into a reality. She recently won the prestigious US$1 million Dan David Prize for her work in combating climate change. Paula Kahumbu Elephant Conservationist (Kenya) Kahumbu is the Executive Director of WildlifeDirect in Kenya and leader of a muti-year campaign to both raise awareness about elephant poaching and pass conservation legislation. Her local and international efforts to stem poaching from all angles have won her numerous awards, including the Whitley Award and the National Geographic Howard Buffet Award for conservation leadership in Africa. Basima Abdulrahman Green Re-Building Pioneer (Iraq) Abdulrahman is the Founder and CEO of Iraq’s first green design and construction consulting company. Her goal is to help her war-torn country build back in a way that is “sustainable, inclusive and economically productive through making buildings and infrastructures healthy, environmentally responsible, and resource-efficient.” Abdulrahman was the co-chair of the World Economic Forum in Davos, in January 2019. Related: Permaculture feeds and empowers refugees in Uganda Amy Jadesimi Sustainable Business Leader (Nigeria) Jadesimi is the CEO of a 100 percent Nigerian-owned Industrial Free Zone in Lagos. She is a trained medical doctor, entrepreneur and advocate for sustainable business as the only viable business model for progress. In 2018 she spoke at the U.N. about “the potential for private sector to take a lead in achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.“ Jadesimi is confident that market growth in Africa, guided by the Sustainable Development Goals, is essential to provide jobs and improve environmental and social problems at the scale needed for a successful and sustainable future. Greta Thunberg Teen Climate Crusader (Sweden) In 2018, 15-year-old Greta Thunberg sat outside the Swedish Parliament for three weeks, demanding national leaders radically prioritize climate change . Since then, her example has launched a ripple-effect of youth protests in over 270 cities around the world. Faced with living out the impacts of climate change, young people are taking the lead to speak out for stronger commitment and follow-through from world leaders. The New Yorker called Greta a “voice of unaccommodating clarity.” Heba Al Farra Women in the Environment Sector Connector (Palestine) Al Farra was recognized as a UN Young Champion of the Earth  for her organization, Women in Energy & Environment at MENA Region (WEE), which is building a professional network for Middle Eastern and North African women working in environmental fields. WEE connects women with resources and a supportive community. An environmental engineer, Al Farra left Palestine for Kuwait when the violence in Gaza disrupted her studies and is dedicated to linking women from her home country with the skills they need to succeed professionally. Images via David Suzuki Foundation , Frank Schwichtenberg , UNclimatechange,   Pop Tech , World Economic Forum , Danish Maritime Days , UNEP , bones64 , Molly Adams , Shutterstock

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International Women’s Day Spotlight: Meet the 8 women leading the change for a better world

This is how climate change will impact wine

February 14, 2019 by  
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Look at a wine label or chat with a wine connoisseur, and you will find that wine has always been intimately connected to location and climate. Grapes taste different from region to region, and even grapes from the same vineyard taste different from year to year, depending on the weather each season. So it is no surprise that drastically changing weather patterns have a huge and confusing impact on the wine industry. Increasing temperatures and climate volatility not only impact the flavor profiles for wine enthusiasts, but the unreliability also has a negative impact on wine farmers . Climate scientists argue that growers need to start implementing adaptation measures  and experiment with lesser-known varieties of grapes, but these solutions come with risks and expenses that are often too costly for farmers. The last four years have been the hottest on record , a drastic change for grapes that generally thrive in cool, temperate climates. Unpredictable weather, such as droughts, heatwaves and hail can devastate farmers of all kinds, but grapes are a particularly sensitive and vulnerable crop. In Sonoma County, a region in California known for wine production, a record-breaking wildfire devastated the county in 2017, followed by an even more devastating, record-breaking fire in 2018. Related: The growing wine industry is threatening California’s Napa Valley Even in cases of more subtle changes, the impact on sensitive grapes is noticeable. Soil salinity is changing in some regions as a result of sea level rise, and many farmers struggle with increased pests and diseases. Typically, winter frost kills off pest larva, reducing the population in spring, but when temperatures no longer reach below freezing, the populations continue to grow. Wine’s climate connection The wine industry is highly dependent on subtle climate and soil characteristics. In fact, enthusiasts argue that wines are made from four ingredients: the weather, the soil, the topography and the grape. Wine is often defined by its terroir , a word derived from the Latin word terra , meaning earth. It is used to describe a wine’s “sense of place” — in other words, the very specific microclimate and soil of a particular area. To understand the specificity with which soil and temperature characteristics impact the wine, it is important to note one vineyard alone might contain many different microclimates. For example, the slope and orientation of a row might dictate how much sun the grapes receive. Weather affects the grape’s sugar content, acidity and tannin content. As temperatures increase, grapes are ripe and ready to harvest sooner than usual. If left on the vine, the sugar and alcohol content will rise past acceptable (and delicious) levels. Unfortunately, harvesting grapes earlier means they also lose their complexity and the quality that successful vineyards and their customers rely on. In New Zealand, for example, where 85 percent of exported wine is Savignon Blanc, the world renowned “acidic gooseberry” flavor profile is becoming more of a “mellow tropical fruit.” Climate-smart agriculture for wine growers Many farmers have begun to implement climate-smart agriculture practices on their land; however, broad changes and new technology are still unattainable for some growers. Examples of adaptation measures include cover cropping and drip irrigation to conserve soil and water , nets to protect vines from hail and limiting the height of vines. Other farmers are planting on south-facing slopes to reduce sun exposure, while some farmers are going so far as to relocate their entire vineyards to cooler climates and higher altitudes. Even the more modest solutions require significant costs in terms of new equipment and additional labor. One frost fan alone, which controls the temperature variation on the vines, can cost $40,000 . Researchers suggest lesser-known grapes Researchers argue that experimenting with lesser-known varieties of grapes is one solution that farmers should invest in. In a recent Harvard University publication , assistant professor Elizabeth Wolkovich explained, “There are more than 1,000 varieties — and some of them are better adapted to hotter climates and have higher drought tolerance than the 12 varieties now making up over 80 percent of the wine market in many countries. We should be studying and exploring these varieties to prepare for climate change .” Farmers, however, are hesitant to experiment, because new varieties come with risk as well as changes to their brand. In Europe, only three varieties of grapes can legally be labeled as champagne. Champagne farmers are therefore uninterested in testing other varieties, because they will lose their name and their market share. Related: Champagne could lose its classic taste due to climate change In other regions, like the U.S. and Australia, labeling requirements are less strict; therefore, farmers have more freedom to experiment. Still, customers largely buy based on grape name recognition, such as “pinot noir.” Changing the grape means introducing new names and flavors to customers, which is a marketing challenge many vineyards are not excited to take on. In addition, experimentation is a risky and long-term solution. Christine Collier Clair,  director of Willamette Valley Vineyards in Oregon, explained , “When you plant, you won’t get your first crop for four years, and your first wines in six years. And you won’t know if it’s a really great site for maybe 20 years.” The wine industry is in a difficult and critical moment of decision. Growers must decide now to risk investing land and money into new practices and uncertain grapes or else risk serious problems from an uncertain future. Via New Zealand Herald Images via Qimono , Chee Hong , Bernard Spragg and Tjabeljan

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This is how climate change will impact wine

Cargill announces plan to reduce deforestation from cocoa

January 29, 2019 by  
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One of the worlds top three food corporations, Cargill, announced a plan to reduce deforestation caused by their cocoa farmers. The plan, Protect our Planet , promises 100 percent traceability of cocoa beans in Cote d’Ivoire by 2020 and zero clearing of forested land for plantations in both Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. The plan also covers Brazil, Indonesia and Cameroon and includes a wide scale mapping project that identifies the exact size and location of every small farm. Cargill has already mapped 90,000 farms and conducted risk assessments for over 2.3 million hectares. The mapping aims to improve traceability, transparency and accountability. Through GPS technology , Cargill can track farmers’ tree cover, cultivation methods, fertilizers, boundaries and can therefore refuse beans from farmers who spread into forested or protected lands. An improved barcode and electronic payment system, combined with finance training for farmers, means that beans can be traced back to farmers and ensures they are compensated right away. Deforestation is largely due to increasing demand for chocolate combined with poverty, which forces farmers to exploit their land for increase production, such as using harmful chemical fertilizers. When old trees become less productive and land is degraded, farmers often seek new land and may clear forested areas. Related: Deforestation could wipe out over 50 percent of species in Haiti “Global production relies almost entirely on five to six million smallholders,” a study on cocoa-related deforestation reports. “While the deforestation occurs at the smallholder level, it is the companies, governments, and NGOs that need to take action due to the limited technical and economic capacity of smallholders to enact the necessary reforms on their own.” Many small farmers lack government-recognized land rights, which could impact their access once all farms are officially monitored and mapped. Despite investments in building community awareness about climate-smart agriculture , when farmers exhaust cocoa production on their land, will this plan limit their individual growth and livelihoods while Cargill still has the option to move on to farmers with more productive land? When Cargill’s emissions are calculated in combination with the other four largest food corporations, their carbon footprint is larger than BP, Exxon Mobile or Shell. Though serious action on deforestation by major corporations is overdue and paramount to making an impact of scale, it remains to be seen how much this sustainability plan will impact small farmers, while Cargill’s unrivaled power and polluting capacity remain unchecked. Via AllAfrica Image via Shutterstock

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Cargill announces plan to reduce deforestation from cocoa

This high-tech LED lighting could grow veggies in space

January 22, 2019 by  
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Move over, freeze-dried foods and Tang. The astronauts of tomorrow may be growing veggies in their spacecraft or even on the moon and Mars. OSRAM , a global high-tech lighting company, showed off its PHYTOFY horticultural lighting system at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) . PHYTOFY RL uses LED lights that can be tuned, controlled and scheduled for different research applications. NASA is experimenting with PHYTOFY at the Kennedy Space Center to create plant recipes, which could eventually be used at the international space station. “While space is limited on spacecraft, NASA hopes to eventually scale up to larger growing areas, such as the lunar surface, the Martian surface or even during space transit,” said Steve Graves, strategic program manager for urban and digital farming. Related: Can vertical farming feed the world and change the agriculture industry? The PHYTOFY system includes an electric light unit, control gear and software. “The ability to control and schedule spectra, dosing plants photon by photon, is extremely innovative, especially when put into the hands of plants scientists,” Graves said. Despite the allure of space, OSRAM isn’t giving up on this planet. The plantCube is an Earth-based example of horticultural tech in OSRAM’s CES 2019 display. This hydroponic “smart garden,” made by agrilution, uses OSRAM’s LED technology to make it easy to grow greens and herbs. “With the plantCube, we meet two different global trends: the desire for people living in big cities to have a healthy diet alongside a switch to local food production,” Maximilian Lössl, co-founder of agrilution, said. “With this closed system, you are able to reduce water consumption and keep the use of fertilizers to a minimum, while eliminating the need for pesticides.” One of OSRAM’s breakthroughs — both in outer space and on Earth — is using different wavelengths of light to control plants’ growth cycles. Plants can then be harvested more or less frequently, as needed. “Light recipes” can also increase the nutrients and vitamins in plants and alter their flavors. OSRAM continues to collaborate with labs and universities to fine-tune and explore applications. + OSRAM Images via OSRAM

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This high-tech LED lighting could grow veggies in space

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