In the future, the farm may come to the city. “Vertical farming” is the umbrella term describing indoor growing methods like hydroponics, aquaponics, aeroponics and other systems. Indoor farming isn’t new, of course.
In the future, the farm may come to the city.
“Vertical farming” is the umbrella term describing indoor growing methods like hydroponics, aquaponics, aeroponics and other systems.
Indoor farming isn’t new, of course. Greenhouse production of flowers and vegetables is already a billion-dollar business in Canada, a country that lacks a long growing season.
But vertical farming isn’t just a way to grow crops in an inhospitable environment. It’s viewed as a way for urban agriculture to take root — not in a back lot or basement, but in a skyscraper where 30 floors might be dedicated to the raising of fruits and vegetables.
Promoting the idea
The idea for a high-rise harvest has been actively promoted by Dickson Despommier, a Columbia University professor who challenges his students to find ways to feed a growing population on a planet already facing increasing pressures from global warming. Despommier envisions high-tech lighting, monitoring systems, sensors and other devices to facilitate as many as 100 kinds of fruits and vegetables.
In an interview with Miller-McCune magazine in 2009, Despommier said the concept of a skyscraper farm isn’t as radical as it sounds — not with 9 billion people on the planet by 2050. It’s not going to be possible to devote enough land to feed a population that large, he said. While the organic farm movement is positive, there’s not enough grown to take care of demand, said Despommier.
“There just isn’t enough good soil out there,” he said in the interview.
Vertical farms provide a way to control the growing process unavailable to farmers who are at the mercy of Mother Nature.
Seeing the future
Vertical farming isn’t some futuristic concept. Paignton Zoo in England has been raising herbs and lettuce, among other crops, to feed the zoo’s animals since 2009, thanks to El Paso, Texas-based Valcent Products, using the company’s patented VertiCrop hydroponics system.
Valcent’s Chris Bradford said there were a number of reasons for the zoo to provide the first vertical farm program in Europe.
“There’s a cost-saving element. The zoo spends over $200,000 a year on food for the animals. By using computerized irrigation systems within the building that houses the vertical farm, less water is required to raise crops than if they were grown in a field,” said Bradford.
“That’s one of the reasons we’ve seen interest in vertical farming systems in the Middle East, where water is scarce.
“The system also appeals to people with environmental concerns. The beauty of this (vertical) system is that you don’t need green field sites or chemicals to raise crops.”
Plants that can be raised indoors successfully include carrots, tomatoes, turnips, spinach, lettuce and herbs, Bradford said.