“If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” ― Albert Einstein
Vertical Farming – The Perfect Solution?
At our current population level, an area the size of South America is needed to grow food and raise livestock. By 2050 it’s estimated that there will be close to 10 billion people on the planet, which will require additional area of arable land the size of Brazil if current farming methods are used (Despommier, 2010). Couple this with the growing demands of developing countries wishing to live western lives and consume at the rate we have been enjoying and it makes for a dangerous situation. How can we satisfy an exponential demand with a finite planet?
Population increase is not the only thing straining our food production capabilities. Relentless production has demolished the quality of soils around the world so that chemical fertilisers must now prop up the machine if we want it to keep churning out food. As well as fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides which have been drowning our food for years are becoming less and less effective as pests develop immunity. Check out this article if you would like to see the impact some of these chemicals are having on vital pollinators.
I think you are getting the idea…
The current system is the only one that is currently providing the food we need at scale (I’m not knocking it for that) but it is unsustainable if we want to keep this beautiful planet habitable. What we need are some alternatives which use DRASTICALLY less water, little-to-no inputs from nasty chemicals and production which we can locate as close as possible to where the food is going to be eaten. If only there was something like that available…
Whats that you say? Vertical Farming? What the hell is that?
I’ll tell you.
Vertical Farming is the process of stackable food production. Instead of one level of crops along the ground, a series of shelves are stacked one on top of the other, thereby massively increasing the productive capacity of a single square foot. The term vertical farming was first coined by Dickson Despommier (Author of The Vertical Farm). I have taken the quote he uses to introduce vertical farming in his book:
“By applying state-of-the-art controlled-environment agricultural technologies as an integrated system contained within a multi-story building — vertical farming — the world could rapidly become a much better place to welcome the next generation of humans.”
Before we go into the advantages of vertical farming I will show you the general principle and how some of the systems work.
Basics of Vertical Farming
Vertical farming uses a combination of aquaponics, stackable shelves and LED light bars.
Plants grown in an inert material such as lava rocks, with their roots in a liquid solution. The water is first passed through fishtanks before being passed over the roots of the plants.
Here is a great video by Plant Chicago which explains it better than I can!
This can be over the many floors of a building or can be shelves one on top of each other with enough room between shelves for the plant and the led light.
Led Light Bar
High efficiency bulbs are used to mimic the sun’s rays and provide energy for photosynthesis. The bulbs used in vertical farming are tuned to exactly the frequency which the plants need, removing any wasted energy from being used on areas of the light spectrum which are not used by the plants. Here is a 20 second clip to show you what I mean.
Benefits of Vertical Farming
In his book, Dickson Despommier lists 11 major benefits of vertical farming. I have chosen three to elaborate on:
Use of 70-95% less water.
No use of pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers.
Year round crop production.
1: Use of 70-95% Less Water
Traditional farming methods use an astonishing amount of water which we don’t have allot of as it is.
From the National Geographic Website:
“Freshwater makes up a very small fraction of all water on the planet. While nearly 70 percent of the world is covered by water, only 2.5 percent of it is fresh. The rest is saline and ocean-based. Even then, just 1 percent of our freshwater is easily accessible, with much of it trapped in glaciers and snowfields. In essence, only 0.007 percent of the planet’s water is available to fuel and feed its 6.8 billion people.” (National Geographic)
So then, I guess you would agree with me that using massively less water is a great idea?
2: No Use of Pesticides, Herbicides or Fertilisers
As well as increasing the amount of fossil fuel energy needed to produce our food, pesticides and herbicides are designed to KILL. If they are designed to kill something else, they probably aren’t doing anything nice to me once I eat them. I wouldn’t eat rat poison out the bottle yet I don’t go out of my way to buy organic food? Something is backward there.
Another great reason to celebrate not using these harmful chemicals is that there will be less negative impact on pollinators such as bees! THIS article discusses neonicotinoids and THIS post has a great video on honey yields from rural bees vs urban bees (the results might surprise you!)
3: Year Round Crop Production
SAY WHHAAAT. No longer will we be constrained by those pesky seasonal changes!
One massive upside of growing in a controlled environment is that each aspect of the lighting and temperature can be simulated to mimic the exact growing conditions plants need at each stage of their lifecycle. With these systems it no longer matters when you plant your seeds, adding another level of protection against fluctuations in supply. One-nil for food security.
Awesome Vertical Farming Videos:
This Farm of the Future Uses No Soil and 95% Less Water – By Seeker Stories
Earthrise – Japan’s Future Farms
Growing Roots – This Farmer Is Taking Root On Your Rooftops // Discovery on Viddsee
What do you think about vertical farming?
Despommier, D,. (2010) The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century. St Martin’s Press, New York. pp77.