The Benefits of the Vertical Farming Methods
Vertical farming is a method of producing crops that’s quite different from what we normally think of as farming. Instead of crops being grown on vast fields, they’re grown in vertically, or into the air. This normally means that the “farms” occupy much less space than traditional farms: think farming in tall, urban buildings vs. farming outdoors in the countryside. Vertical farming is credited to Dickson Despommier, a professor of ecology at Columbia University, who came up with the idea of taking urban rooftop gardens a step further, and creating vertical farming “towers” in buildings, that would allow all of a building’s floors, not just the rooftop, to be used for producing crops.
Most vertical farms are either hydroponic, where veggies are grown in a basin of water containing nutrients, or aeroponics, where the plants’ roots are sprayed with a mist that includes water and the nutrients required to help the plants grow. Neither requires soil for the crops to grow. Usually artificial grow lights are used, though in places blessed with an abundance of natural sunlight, it might be a combination. And, in some places, it seems to be working quite well. Sky Greens is in Singapore, a country with a population of more than 5.5 million on a main island that’s just 26 miles wide and 14 miles long.
In a four-story rotating greenhouse, the company produces 1 ton of greens each day, impressive for a country that imports about 93 percent of its produce, since there’s little available land. Back in the States, AeroFarms, based out of Newark, NJ, operates several farms. Its global headquarters is a 70,000-sq. ft. vertical farming behemoth, the largest in the world, and can harvest up to 2 million pounds of produce annually. Additionally, AeroFarms helps area children get a little closer to the foods they eat. In a partnership with a local elementary school, students actually harvest their own greens in a 50-sq. ft. AeroFarms unit in their dining hall.
Vertical Farming Benefits:
1. There’s year-round crop production. Say goodbye to seasonal crops. Because vertical farms can control all of the technology required to grow the produce, there’s really no such thing as the wrong season. If a head of lettuce needs a certain amount of humidity and light, a vertical farm can arrange that. A growing season of just a few months is replaced with a year-round production. Without things like bugs and weeds, vertical farms don’t need to use pesticides and other harmful chemicals to ensure plants keep growing.
2. They’re weatherproof. Every farmer knows that unseasonably cold or hot temperatures can affect an entire harvest, while a natural disaster like flood or hurricane can derail them for years. In a controlled environment like a vertical farm, there’s no need to fear Mother Nature.
3. They use less water conservation. Generally, vertical farms use less water than traditional farms. Most data points to a 70-percent reduction in water use compared to normal farms. As water becomes scarcer, particularly in communities already suffering from droughts, this is huge.
4. There’s less spoilage. Without the risk of fluctuating weather conditions or pesky critters, there’s a lot less food waste. On traditional farms, up to 30 percent of harvests are lost each year. On vertical farms, that number goes way down. Additionally, the food from vertical farms is usually sold locally, reducing transportation emissions and time from farm-to-table. Instead of several days of transport, during which foods can go bad, produce can be in the hands of a consumer in just hours.
5. They take up less space. In vertical farming, one acre of indoor space is the equivalent of 4-6 outdoor acres. A lot less space is necessary to produce the same amount of produce, particularly useful in cities, where outdoor land is limited. Instead of building out, vertical farms allow people to build up. They also create farms out of places that already exist, like abandoned warehouses and buildings. AeroFarms’ space, for instance, was a nightclub space that was abandoned.
There’s no need for new construction, because we can breathe new life into old spaces.