Kira Peikoff was the editor-in-chief of Leaps.org from 2017 to 2021. As a journalist, her work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, Nautilus, Popular Mechanics, The New York Academy of Sciences, and other outlets. She is also the author of four suspense novels that explore controversial issues arising from scientific innovation: Living Proof, No Time to Die, Die Again Tomorrow, and Mother Knows Best. Peikoff holds a B.A. in Journalism from New York University and an M.S. in Bioethics from Columbia University. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two young sons. Follow her on Twitter @KiraPeikoff.
By the time you reach for that head of lettuce at the grocery store, it's already probably traveled hundreds of miles and spent almost two weeks sitting in a truck.
"Food is no longer grown for human beings, it's grown for a truck to support a supply chain," says the president of Metropolis Farms in Philadelphia.
But everyone likes fresh produce, so the closer your veggies are grown to your favorite supermarket or restaurant, the better. With the recent outbreak of E.coli contaminating romaine lettuce across the United States, it's especially appealing to know that your produce has been grown nearby in a safe environment. How about a farm right on top of a grocery store in Philadelphia? Or one underground in the heart of Manhattan? Or one inside an iconic restaurant in Australia?
Hyper-local urban farming is providing some consumers with instant access to seriously fresh produce. It's also a way for restaurants and food suppliers to save on costs, eliminating the need for expensive packaging and shipping, experts say. Tour five of the world's coolest vertical farms in pictures below.
Farm.One's vision is to build small indoor farms in cities around the country that provide rare herbs and produce to high-end restaurants. Their farm in the heart of Manhattan occupies 1200 square feet in a basement beneath the two-Michelin-starred restaurant Atera, which is conveniently one of their customers. All of the 20 to 25 restaurants they supply to are within a three-mile radius, making delivery possible by subway or bike.
"We have a direct connection with the chefs," says the CEO and founder Robert Laing. "For very perishable produce like herbs and leafy greens, hyper-local vertical farming works really well. It's literally dying the moment you cut it, and this is designed to be fresh."
"Restaurants are important," says Jack Griffin, the president of the indoor vertical Metropolis Farms in Philadelphia. "But not the most important, because they don't feed the majority of people."
Griffin is on a mission to standardize the indoor farming industry so supermarkets and communities around the world can benefit from the technology in a cost-effective and accessible way. Right now, Metropolis Farms supplies to a local grocer, Di Brunos Bros, that is less than two miles from their facility. In the future, they have plans to build a rooftop greenhouse atop a new supermarket in Philadelphia, plus indoor farms in Baltimore, Oklahoma, and as far away as India.
One advantage of their farms, says Griffin, is their proprietary technology. An adaptive lighting system allows them to grow almost any size crop, including tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, strawberries, and even giant sunflowers.
"It's bigger than just food," he explains. "We are working on growing specialty crops like wine, chocolate, and coffee. All these plants are within reach, and we can cut the cord between supply chains that are difficult to deal with. Can you imagine if you grew Napa wines in Camden, New Jersey?"
GOOD BANK, in Berlin, bills itself as the world's first farm-to-table vertical restaurant. They grow their many of their own vegetables and salads onsite using farming system technology from another German company called INFARM. The latter's co-founder and CEO, Erez Galonska, cites a decline in traditional farming, an increase in urban populations, and the inefficiency of the current food system as motivation for turning to vertical farming to produce food where people actually eat and live.
"INFARM is pioneering on-demand farming services to help cities become self-sufficient in their food production, while eliminating waste and reducing their environmental impact," Galonska says.
Melbourne-based Farmwall leases indoor vertical farms the size of small bookshelves to restaurants and cafes. The farms are designed to be visually appealing, with fish tanks at the bottom supplying nutrient-rich water to the hemp media in which herbs and microgreens grow under LED lights. As part of the subscription model, urban farmers come once a week to check water levels, bring new trays of greens, and maintain the system. So far, two restaurants have signed up -- Top Paddock, in the suburb of Richmond, and Higher Ground, an internationally recognized restaurant in Melbourne.
"It's worth it to the restaurants because they get fresh produce at their fingertips and it has all the benefits of having a garden out back without any of the work," says Serena Lee, Farmwall's co-founder and chief communications officer.
The sky's the limit for future venue possibilities: nursing homes, schools, hotel lobbies, businesses, homes.
"Urban farming is never going to feed the world," Lee acknowledges. "We understand that and we're not saying it will, but when people are able to watch their food grow onsite, it triggers an awareness of local food production. It teaches people about how technology and science can work in coherence with nature to create something super-efficient, sustainable, and beautiful."
At the restaurant Otium in Los Angeles, a peaceful rooftop garden sits atop a structure of concrete and steel that overlooks the hustle and bustle of downtown LA. Vegetables and herbs grown on the roof include Red Ribbon Sorrel, fennel fronds, borage blossoms, nasturtium, bush basil, mustard frills, mustard greens, kale, arugula, petit leaf lettuce, and mizuna. Chef Timothy Hollingsworth delights in Otium's ability to grow herbs that local purveyors don't offer, like the wild Middle Eastern Za'atar he uses on grilled steak with onions and sumac.
"I don't think this growing trend [of urban farming] is something that will be limited to a handful of restaurants," says Hollingsworth. "Every business should be concerned with sustainability and strive to protect the environment, so I think we will be seeing more and more gardening efforts throughout the country."
Whether a garden is vertical or horizontal, indoors or outdoors, on a roof or in a basement, tending to one provides not only fresh food, but intangible benefits as well.
"When you put your time and love into something," says Hollingsworth, "it really makes you respect and appreciate the produce from every stage of its life."
No human has run a distance of 100 meters faster than Usain Bolt’s lightning streak in 2009. He set this record at age 22. But what will Bolt’s time be when he’s 105?
At the Louisiana Senior Games in November 2021, 105-year-old Julia Hawkins of Baton Rouge became the oldest woman to run 100 meters in an official competition, qualifying her for this year's National Senior Games. Perhaps not surprisingly, she was the only competitor in the race for people 105 and older. In this Leaps.org video, I interview Hawkins about her lifestyle habits over the decades. Then I ask Steven Austad, a pioneer in studying the mechanisms of aging, for his scientific insights into how those aspiring to become super-agers might follow in Hawkins' remarkable footsteps.
Following the Footsteps of a 105-Year-Old SprinterNo human has run a distance of 100 meters faster than Usain Bolt’s lightning streak in 2009. He set this record at age 22. But what will Bolt’s time be when ...
A new virus has emerged and stoked fears of another pandemic: monkeypox. Since May 2022, it has been detected in 29 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico among international travelers and their close contacts. On a worldwide scale, as of June 30, there have been 5,323 cases in 52 countries.
The good news: An existing vaccine can go a long way toward preventing a catastrophic outbreak. Because monkeypox is a close relative of smallpox, the same vaccine can be used—and it is about 85 percent effective against the virus, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Also on the plus side, monkeypox is less contagious with milder illness than smallpox and, compared to COVID-19, produces more telltale signs. Scientists think that a “ring” vaccination strategy can be used when these signs appear to help with squelching this alarming outbreak.
How it’s transmitted
Monkeypox spreads between people primarily through direct contact with infectious sores, scabs, or bodily fluids. People also can catch it through respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
As of June 30, there have been 396 documented monkeypox cases in the U.S., and the CDC has activated its Emergency Operations Center to mobilize additional personnel and resources. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is aiming to boost testing capacity and accessibility. No Americans have died from monkeypox during this outbreak but, during the COVID-19 pandemic (February 2020 to date), Africa has documented 12,141 cases and 363 deaths from monkeypox.
Ring vaccination proved effective in curbing the smallpox and Ebola outbreaks. As the monkeypox threat continues to loom, scientists view this as the best vaccine approach.
A person infected with monkeypox typically has symptoms—for instance, fever and chills—in a contagious state, so knowing when to avoid close contact with others makes it easier to curtail than COVID-19.
Advantages of ring vaccination
For this reason, it’s feasible to vaccinate a “ring” of people around the infected individual rather than inoculating large swaths of the population. Ring vaccination proved effective in curbing the smallpox and Ebola outbreaks. As the monkeypox threat continues to loom, scientists view this as the best vaccine approach.
With many infections, “it normally would make sense to everyone to vaccinate more widely,” says Wesley C. Van Voorhis, a professor and director of the Center for Emerging and Re-emerging Infectious Diseases at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. However, “in this case, ring vaccination may be sufficient to contain the outbreak and also minimize the rare, but potentially serious side effects of the smallpox/monkeypox vaccine.”
There are two licensed smallpox vaccines in the United States: ACAM2000 (live Vaccina virus) and JYNNEOS (live virus non-replicating). The ACAM 2000, Van Voorhis says, is the old smallpox vaccine that, in rare instances, could spread diffusely within the body and cause heart problems, as well as severe rash in people with eczema or serious infection in immunocompromised patients.
To prevent organ damage, the current recommendation would be to use the JYNNEOS vaccine, says Phyllis Kanki, a professor of health sciences in the division of immunology and infectious diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. However, according to a report on the CDC’s website, people with immunocompromising conditions could have a higher risk of getting a severe case of monkeypox, despite being vaccinated, and “might be less likely to mount an effective response after any vaccination, including after JYNNEOS.”
In the late 1960s, the ring vaccination strategy became part of the WHO’s mission to globally eradicate smallpox, with the last known natural case described in Somalia in 1977. Ring vaccination can also refer to how a clinical trial is designed, as was the case in 2015, when this approach was used for researching the benefits of an investigational Ebola vaccine in Guinea, Kanki says.
“Since Monkeypox spreads by close contact and we have an effective vaccine, vaccinating high-risk individuals and their contacts may be a good strategy to limit transmission,” she says, adding that privacy is an important ethical principle that comes into play, as people with monkeypox would need to disclose their close contacts so that they could benefit from ring vaccination.
Rapid identification of cases and contacts—along with their cooperation—is essential for ring vaccination to be effective. Although mass vaccination also may work, the risk of infection to most of the population remains low while supply of the JYNNEOS vaccine is limited, says Stanley Deresinski, a clinical professor of medicine in the Infectious Disease Clinic at Stanford University School of Medicine.
Other strategies for preventing transmission
Ideally, the vaccine should be administered within four days of an exposure, but it’s recommended for up to 14 days. The WHO also advocates more widespread vaccination campaigns in the population segment with the most cases so far: men who engage in sex with other men.
The virus appears to be spreading in sexual networks, which differs from what was seen in previously reported outbreaks of monkeypox (outside of Africa), where risk was associated with travel to central or west Africa or various types of contact with individuals or animals from those locales. There is no evidence of transmission by food, but contaminated articles in the environment such as bedding are potential sources of the virus, Deresinski says.
Severe cases of monkeypox can occur, but “transmission of the virus requires close contact,” he says. “There is no evidence of aerosol transmission, as occurs with SARS-CoV-2, although it must be remembered that the smallpox virus, a close relative of monkeypox, was transmitted by aerosol.”
Deresinski points to the fact that in 2003, monkeypox was introduced into the U.S. through imports from Ghana of infected small mammals, such as Gambian giant rats, as pets. They infected prairie dogs, which also were sold as pets and, ultimately, this resulted in 37 confirmed transmissions to humans and 10 probable cases. A CDC investigation identified no cases of human-to-human transmission. Then, in 2021, a traveler flew from Nigeria to Dallas through Atlanta, developing skin lesions several days after arrival. Another CDC investigation yielded 223 contacts, although 85 percent were deemed to be at only minimal risk and the remainder at intermediate risk. No new cases were identified.
How much should we be worried
But how serious of a threat is monkeypox this time around? “Right now, the risk to the general public is very low,” says Scott Roberts, an assistant professor and associate medical director of infection prevention at Yale School of Medicine. “Monkeypox is spread through direct contact with infected skin lesions or through close contact for a prolonged period of time with an infected person. It is much less transmissible than COVID-19.”
The monkeypox incubation period—the time from infection until the onset of symptoms—is typically seven to 14 days but can range from five to 21 days, compared with only three days for the Omicron variant of COVID-19. With such a long incubation, there is a larger window to conduct contact tracing and vaccinate people before symptoms appear, which can prevent infection or lessen the severity.
But symptoms may present atypically or recognition may be delayed. “Ring vaccination works best with 100 percent adherence, and in the absence of a mandate, this is not achievable,” Roberts says.
At the outset of infection, symptoms include fever, chills, and fatigue. Several days later, a rash becomes noticeable, usually beginning on the face and spreading to other parts of the body, he says. The rash starts as flat lesions that raise and develop fluid, similar to manifestations of chickenpox. Once the rash scabs and falls off, a person is no longer contagious.
“It's an uncomfortable infection,” says Van Voorhis, the University of Washington School of Medicine professor. There may be swollen lymph nodes. Sores and rash are often limited to the genitals and areas around the mouth or rectum, suggesting intimate contact as the source of spread.
Symptoms of monkeypox usually last from two to four weeks. The WHO estimated that fatalities range from 3 to 6 percent. Although it’s believed to infect various animal species, including rodents and monkeys in west and central Africa, “the animal reservoir for the virus is unknown,” says Kanki, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health professor.
Too often, viruses originate in parts of the world that are too poor to grapple with them and may lack the resources to invest in vaccines and treatments. “This disease is endemic in central and west Africa, and it has basically been ignored until it jumped to the north and infected Europeans, Americans, and Canadians,” Van Voorhis says. “We have to do a better job in health care and prevention all over the world. This is the kind of thing that comes back to bite us.”