With over 50% of people living in cities, there is a large demand for feeding these people. By 2050, the most conservative estimates of population growth project the human population will swell to 3 billion additional people. In order to feed the increased amount of people, 109 hectares of new farm land would be cleared in traditional farming practices. Compounding the issue centers on 80% of arable land is already in use for farming. Around 15% of farmable land was rendered unusable from poor management practices. The land resources are not able to meet the requirement of the most conservative projections of population growth. This is not a sustainable method of feeding the world’s population. This is where vertical farming comes into the forefront of solutions for feeding the burgeoning population of the world.
What is Vertical Farming
When one imagines a farm, especially the North American variety, they will invariably imagine expansive fields with amber waves of grain, and cows grazing near a red barn with peeling paint. Vertical farming, in the same vein as skyscrapers of modern cities, expands vertically instead of horizontally. Instead of requiring thousands of square feet of horizontal space, a vertical farm can vastly increase the yield of a space by stacking plants on top of each other through the use of shelving. Vertical farming structures can come in many different manifestations such as resembling a greenhouse occupying the ground level floors of an office building. There are a great number of possibilities for the incorporation of plant-growing spaces in architectural structures. The main benefit of incorporating vertical farming is the efficient use of space. With growth of food nondependent on expanses of land spread horizontally, this land is now free for other uses besides degradation of natural habitat for the use of human food.
Examples of Vertical Farming
In Tokyo, Japan, there is a fantastic example of vertical urban farming. Square in the middle of downtown Tokyo, and incredible densely populated city, there is an inconspicuous office building which houses several rooms dedicated to vegetable growing. The project, Pasona O2, is an office building for Pasona, which offers human resources consultant services. The O2 portion pertains to the indoor farm. The ground floor houses a rice field, allowing the tenants of the building to take fresh rice grown in their building and hand it to an onsite chef for use in their lunch. The various vegetables grow with the aid of energy-efficient LED and spot lights. One great benefit of growing plants indoors is that it eliminates many of the pests common in field produce, essentially making the indoor plants organic.
In Newark, New Jersey, a company, AeroFarms, specializes in vertical farming. The company developed the world’s largest indoor, urban, vertical farm by using an old 69,000 square foot abandoned steel mill. Cavernous space allows the company to grow up to 2 million pounds of kale as well as many other vegetables. The company cites the great advantages of indoor vertical farming is they are able to use 90% less water, 50% less fertilizer and zero pesticides, fungicides and herbicides all while growing in 16 days compared to a field taking 30 days. The other chief benefit, especially in latitudes close to Newark, centers on the reduction of seasonality. Conditions are much easier to control indoors including; no killing frosts, no drought and no floods. The greatest benefit centers on the location directly in an urban center, which saves on transportation and spoilage costs. For an item such as a tomato, roughly 60% of the cost in the grocery store is to cover transportation costs.
A clear con is the energy intensity of these projects. Most plants in the field require little energy input minus working of the land. Plants gain all their energy from sunlight. To save on energy and costs, grow houses install blue and red LED lights, which use less energy than yellow lights while providing all the energy a plant would need. Philips light manufacturers developed an entire division towards urban farming grow-lights.
Another great example is Plantagon in Stockholm, Sweden, with partners in Onondaga, Shanghai, Mumbai and Singapore. They employ a very different technique of a vertical and open greenhouse. The effect allows a greater amount of light for the growth of plants. The projected productivity is 300 – 500 tons of vegetables with only a 400 square meter footprint. The plants within Plantagon and other urban vertical farms do not have to practice the traditional farming methods of crop rotation. Most indoor farms use a mixture of water and nutrients to feed the plants, always ensuring a perfect and correct balance for the desired crop.
Vertical Farming Will Feed the Future
The method of growing food needs a great and vast change. There are 2 different styles of growing vertically within the urban sprawl. One is essentially an upgraded version of a greenhouse rising vertically instead of horizontally, while the other is a grow house model which uses artificial light. Both are insulated from the outside world, which allow reductions in the use of water resources, nutrients and pesticides.
Author: Kevin Vanderheiden