BY FRANCES DU
Farming, an activity usually reserved for rural areas, might soon take to the cities ““ vertically.
By the year 2050, the world’s population is estimated to reach a staggering 9 billion, requiring the production of at least 70 percent more food to meet the average global consumption. This rapid growth in population has put a new item of business on the table when it comes to food. It’s become imperative that the way we grow our food is effective and efficient. A spoiled crop would be a major blow. A drought? Catastrophic.
By 2050, the world will be in dire need of an innovative solution. One such solution is vertical farming, an agricultural technique that relies on hydroponics (placing seeds in a solution of minerals dissolved in water) to grow crops year-round. The farming takes place in greenhouses stacked one on top of the other to create a massive greenhouse skyscraper capable of feeding thousands.
Photo via Plantagon. Illustration via Sweco
Moving food production into bustling cities seems like a monumental task but Dickson Despommier, Professor of Public Health in Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University, believes that this idea could prevent future food shortages in an environmentally sound way.
“I think vertical farming is key to supplying us with food and to reusing the wastes that are created after consuming food to supply the energy and the water that’s necessary in order to actually make these things work,” says Despommier. (EarthSky)
And it turns out he’s not the only one. Many vertical farm building designs have been created over the past few years, all modern architectural feats and more visually striking than the next, but the question remains: are these buildings the best solution to avoiding global food shortages?
Photo via The Vertical Farm
Over in Linkopin, Sweden, Hans Hassle, a businessman and CEO of Plantagon, a leading organization in the vertical farm movement, certainly thinks so. The company is poised to make vertical farming the future of agriculture. “We have an extremely good innovation and a global demand for our innovation,” he says. (Plantagon)
Having just won the $25,000 2012 SACC new York-Deloitte Green Award for the Plantagon Vertical Greenhouse, all eyes are on this Swedish-American company whose vertical farm is set to become operational in 2014.
Their vertical farm, which broke ground back in February 2012, is a twelve story building painstakingly designed to combat one of the greatest problems in vertical farming: ensuring even sunlight exposure. Without even exposure, crops will spoil making vertical farming all but an effective idea.
Photo via Plantagon
Plantagon combats this problem by harvesting all of their plants on ground level before placing their crops in small trays on a spiraling mechanical track that will push the trays up and down the building to ensure each crop will receive an even distribution of light. It’s similar to a conveyor belt, but instead of assembling Ford Model Ts, crops are whisked up and down so they can breathe, soak in sunlight, and thrive in this man-made ecosystem.
And despite the initial start up costs required to fund this innovative idea, this new method of farming will save energy and conserve water as a percentage of the water used for cultivation is being recycled repeatedly rather than being used once for a single harvest.
Not only has Plantagon created a sustainable and profitable vertical farm, they have also opened up discussions about urban agriculture.
Along with creating a vertical farm, the building now called the International Centre of Excellence for Urban Agriculture will also serve as a think tank and research lab for scientists to test out new green technology and come up with solutions to combat urban pollution. And the Urban Agriculture Summit 2013 will be the second meeting that brings together scholars, politicians, and entrepreneurs from all over the world to discuss viable green options for the future of food production.
But despite advances in vertical farming, the cost is still off putting. Scientists calculate that on average it will cost $20-30 million for a prototype, but hundreds of millions to build a single 30 story farm (The Scientia Review)
Enthusiasm has not waned, however, and organizations like The Plant offer internship opportunities to learn the ins and outs of harvesting and food production.
Photo via Plant Chicago
Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of vertical farming and how it could potentially affect the way we lead our lives…
Grow what you want: In demand fruits and veggies can be grown all year round despite changes in weather
Know your food is pesticide free: Instead of worrying about whether or not your food will make you sick, this all organic approach promises fresh and toxin-free produce
Reconnect with nature: If you’ve ever had the desire to work the land, you’re in luck. The title of “urban farmer” might be a legitimate occupation in the near future.
Preserve the environment: Rather than having to venture into the rainforest and harm the last few remaining untouched parts of the earth, we can help preserve the environment and grow our food in cities.
More Affordable Produce: Although start up costs are high, it is a cost effective model that will save money down the line.
Frances Du is a freelance writer and blogger based in Toronto, Ontario. She’s an English teacher by day and a city explorer by night, but her goal is to travel all over the world before settling down in NYC. She blogs about twenty-something culture, ideas, and concerns at franny glass strikes back. You can follow her on Twitter @frannyglass22
Feature Photo via The Vertical Farm