Growing up on the coast in Southern California usually means you're surrounded by water, hiking trails and amazing produce at your finger tips! Zain Shauk and I grew up in the same area and I know what he means when he says wellness is just a part of your environment out there and therefore a part of your lifestyle. Zain packed his bags and moved from California to Houston and continued to implement his healthy lifestyle on new soil. His farming company, Dream Harvest, produces fresh, local produce with actually a little less soil and a little more innovation. Read more about it below!
Tell us what you do and why is it so important to you?
I run an organic vertical farm in Texas called Dream Harvest that is super efficient, local and sustainable. I’m excited about it because we have the potential to really affect people’s health by producing better food in a smarter way that could have a big impact on the planet.
We use wind energy, no pesticides and all around we are super green. One of the coolest things about our farm is that we use 1% of the water that a typical farm uses, which is great in terms of efficiency.
What is hydroponic farming?
Hydroponic farming means that the plant is not growing in soil, it’s growing in water and nutrients. We recycle water, so we're extremely efficient, and we grow in an indoor, controlled space, so we don't need any pesticides. We also grow vertically, so it's like farms stacked on farms. And the best part is that it allows us to grow a lot of food locally. Currently we can grow 35 times the produce of an outdoor farm and it gets from our farm to the store within hours of harvest.
How does hydroponic farming affect the nutrients within the produce grown?
Our produce ends up being more nutritious since the plants are growing in the right conditions with the right nutrients. With hydroponic methods, the plants turn out to be fuller in flavor and overall healthier. It’s fresher when you eat it- the fresher the plant, the better it tastes and the more nutrients is holds.
Why innovate in this direction? What is it that excites you most about the space you work in?
I think it’s really exciting to be changing the way farming works. Agriculture is such an old industry and there haven’t been many huge leaps in the technology of how it works. Most farmers are stuck in their old inefficient ways - running farms using lots of pesticides and fertilizers outdoors. There are benefits to growing under the sun and it can be done really well and beautifully, but there’s also many issues to deal with when you grow on a large scale, like runoff and pesticides. And that’s before you think about water use. Agriculture accounts for 80% of U.S. water use. Think about that. Every single day people eat food. If we can change the way people grow food then I see a lot of potential in our business and our mission.
Walk us through your relationship with food and fitness. At what point did it become important for you?
I have always been into health and fitness since early on in high school. I grew up in Santa Monica near the beach and a bunch of trails so health was always a part of our lifestyle just through our environment. My hometown hosts the largest Farmer’s Market in all of Los Angeles (and arguably the best!) which my family and I would often visit on a weekly basis for years. So from early on I was exposed to fresh produce from local farmers.
I was also into sports throughout my life. Played soccer, football, and then joined a bhangra team in college.
What role do you think wellness and healthy eating play within the South Asian Community?
Unfortunately, within the South Asian community health and wellness is not a priority. I actually wrote an article for the Houston Chronicle a few years ago about how South Asian diets are causing harm for our culture. There’s a disturbingly high rate of people with Heart Disease and Diabetes within South Asian groups. We grow up eating really heavy foods with refined starches and few vegetables and few fruits. White rice and white bread are staples in our diet and they have little fiber content or benefits to our nutrition.
I think we’re starting to come around to healthier eating and activity, but the shift has been slow. Still, few people use good grains in their food, and if you go to a South Asian restaurant you probably wouldn’t find brown rice as an option. And I also think that physical fitness is a challenge for a lot of us. It’s not really a part of our culture for some reason. I think if you just look at collegiate sports, that’s probably the best indicator. How many South Asians are really breaking through? I’m hopeful though. I think the fitness wave in the U.S. is starting to catch on.
What are some ways we can overcome nutrition related problems you see in the South Asian community?
Heart disease and diabetes are real problems in South Asian communities - I’m not a doctor but from what I know there’s a lot reasons for that including genetics, diet and activities (or lack thereof).
It’s frustrating that these are real problems - I feel like it’s so obvious to eat better and be more active. I can’t explain why this hasn’t caught on in our communities. When I talk to people in our community about my career path in vertical farming - they’re not really that excited from a health perspective - people are more interested in having pakoras versus kale.
All I know is that I need to continue to talk about it so that diet gets the right attention it deserves. You shouldn’t look at this stuff and think that it’s cute, you should actually eat it.
What’s your HYFN?
Pakistani - American - Muslim - writer - dancer - farmer - business guy - nerd - board game enthusiast - news junkie - beach house lover - Quran reciter - Prius driver
See Zain’s Article about South Asian Diets in the Houston Chronicle here.
Images courtesy of Dream Harvest.