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When the Fukushima nuclear plant suffered a massive radiation leak in 2011 after the record-magnitude earthquake 9.0 and the tsunami, it seeped into the soil surrounding it. This included the soil of the farming village Kawauchi, located 19 miles from the plant, bringing to halt farming and possibly the village’s future.

Before the leak, Kawauchi was the country’s fourth-largest rice producer. However, in 2012, it slipped into seventh place because the amount it outputted slipped 17 percent. Over 105 billion yen has been lost from the nearly 100,000 prefecture farmers since the catastrophic event. Many farmers cannot even begin farming again including the imperial-family suppliers Sonoko and Yoshitaka Akimoto.

Despite repeated lab tests that showed there was no cesium in their crop last year, both farmers are suffering. Certificates have shown that they have organic produce but the nuclear blasts that decimated their area have also decimated their livelihood because no one trusts the food to be free of contamination.

In fact, not even half of the farmers have come back to the area after the disaster to revive the farming industry.

Factory Farming and Hydroponics

Hydroponics is a sub-category of hydroculture and is used to grow plants, not in soil, but with mineral nutrient solutions or another kind of medium like mineral wool, gravel, expanded clay pebbles, perlite, coconut husk, etc. The method is widely used in teaching and biology research.

Although the method was initially discovered in the 18th century, hydroponics didn’t really gain a foothold until the 20th century. In fact, the method, which is now being used to rebuild and revive the contaminated area, was initially tried in the country in 1945 by U.S. occupation forces. Why did they try it? Several local area farmers were fertilizing their fields with human excrement.

Enter in Local Government Official Takeo Endo who came up with the idea of farming without soil to combat the problem with soil contamination. Endo, along with a local government team, has pioneered a project to cultivate food in a sealed-off hydroponics factory.

The factory, which will be the size of a soccer field, is currently being constructed and will be able to grow 8,000 heads of lettuce every day. And, if all goes well, more factories will be built to grow strawberries, tomatoes and other fruits.

The 36-year-old said he was worried farmers were not going to be able to cultivate vegetables and rice for at least 10 years, and growing them in a building ensures that contamination from radiation doesn't happen.

Using a water-solution mixed with fertilizer and LED growing lights, people who once thought they were out of a job may find themselves back in one thanks to the cooperation of the government, researchers and the industry who wants to give farmers an opportunity to compete in the market and let Japanese consumers know their food is safe for consumption.

No Limits To Hydroponic Farming

Hydroponics doesn’t have to be limited to decimated areas; it can be also used in urban areas like New York City, which has a large proportion of people living in it and little farming space to grow food. Hydroponics factory farming could reduce the time it takes to get fruits and vegetables to grocery store, which also reduces the costs paid for the transportation of these foods.

The Past and Current Costs Behind Factory Farming

A big reason factory farming didn’t take off is how much it costs to do. However, with some time and development, the costs have dropped significantly. For a head of lettuce it costs 60 yen to grow; 10 years ago, it cost 300 yen. Today, hydroponically lettuce needs just one percent of water with 25 percent of fertilizer.

Last year, roughly 100 fruits and vegetable factory farms were developed and used in Japan. In 2009, that number was only 34.

Kawauchi’s Factory Farms

The lettuce plant is going to use filtered groundwater and is free of contaminants, and about 25 employees will be hired initially. The produce is set to be sold in supermarkets around Fukushima and will be labeled Kawauchi.

Hydroponics works for fruits and vegetables, because it doesn’t take long to grow the foods. For now, grains cannot be cultivated using this method because they still take months to grow. It’s a new kind of farming that will assist the community affected by the contamination to move forward in the industry.