In March 2011, an undersea earthquake – the most powerful ever recorded in Japan – created a tsunami with waves as high as 133 feet high.
That natural disaster is now called the Great East Japan Earthquake and was responsible for over 15,800 deaths, over 127,000 building collapses and over 1 million damaged buildings. The infrastructure destruction to roads and railways was staggering.
The Great East Japan Earthquake has been called the most costly natural disaster in world history.
Eleven nuclear reactors were shut down after the earthquake and tsunami. At the Fukushima Daiichi plant, explosions and radioactive leaks led to hundreds of thousands of evacuations. As a result of leaks, radioactive iodine was found in tap water and even in the soil in some locations. While no deaths have been reported due to radioactive releases, elevated levels have also been found in fish and beef.
Japan’s prime minister at the time, Naoto Kan said,
The earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear incident have been the biggest crisis Japan has encountered in the 65 years since the end of World War II.
Since the region hit by the tsunami is home to agriculture and farming, the Japanese also endured food shortages in addition to the panic about radiation in the existing food supply.
So for those of us who care about the ecosystem and sustainability, it seems there is no good news or silver lining about the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Enter plant physiologist Shigeharu Shimamura and his company Mirai
Shimamura has converted a previously vacant 25,000 square foot former semiconductor plant into a massive indoor farm. But the size of this plant is not its most impressive feature; more impressive is the conservation it promotes.
All of the necessary elements for plant growth – light, water and temperature – are highly controlled and optimized. Over 17,000 LED lights used by Mirai were specially designed by General Electric to emit the perfect type and amount of light plants need to thrive. When growing plants outside, farmers are at the mercy of sunlight, which can be too strong or too weak for ideal growth. Indoor farmers can maximize the effectiveness of LED lights to ensure optimal growth, all while using much less energy than fluorescent lights.
Plants at Mirai are able to grow at 2.5 times the normal rate. What does that mean in real terms? Shimamura’s indoor farm can grow up to 10,000 heads of lettuce every day. Imagine the positive impact that much vegetation can make in the lives of those with no access to agriculture.
Some estimate that 30% of crops are discarded on a typical farm, either because they do not meet buyer standards or there has been a naturally occurring harm to the crop (bugs, too much heat, etc.). Because of the precise standards used in Shimamura’s indoor farm, this food waste will be nearly eliminated. Every head of lettuce has been grown in an ideal environment, so the pitfalls of outdoor farming do not exist within this indoor farm.
Further, indoor vegetable cultivation uses the precise amount of water necessary, no more. Unlike in an outdoor farm, where some water will runoff, evaporate or be otherwise wasted, indoor farming allows only the amount of water necessary to be used, resulting in significant water conservation. The potential for a drought that ruins crops has also been eliminated.
Mirai has installed their technology at 12 locations in eight prefectures (Hokkaido, Yamagata, Miyagi, Fukushima, Chiba, Tokyo, Kanagawa, Mie and Kochi) and provides technical assistance to the Japanese Antarctic base, Showa Station.
In urban areas where ground space is at a premium, the ability to farm indoors, with plants in multiple tiers, one on top of the other, saves space and conserves the land. Fittingly, Shimamura named his company Mirai, which means “future” in Japanese.
It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention. Plant physiologist Shigeharu Shimamura answered the Great East Japan Earthquake, the ensuing food shortage, and the general panic about food supply with an agricultural industry revolution that could forever change the world’s food supply.
On the Mirai website there is a section labeled “message from the president” where we see a super ambitious, yet still promising declaration:
The solution we propose at this point in time is a “Plant Factory”, however, our technology will not remain limited to only one. As our company name Mirai or Future in English stands for, we always look ahead to the future.
Mirai wishes to support the future of Japan, world, and mankind.
Want to learn how to build a mini LED farm in your home? A detailed, easy-to-follow how to guide will be released shortly!