Vertical farms are simply that--a farm that grows up instead of out. In today's world they are usually indoor, controlled-environments where plants' main needs--light, nutrients, and water--are provided for. The idea of vertical farming and the tools it utilizes are not new. But when combined with today's tech, modern farming can reach new heights (pardon the pun).
90% less water
1 acre outdoor = 36 sq. ft indoor
Fewer miles for fresher food
Plants get their needs met more efficiently
Vertical farms are typically closed-loop systems with little to no waste. Rows of plants are showered with artificial light and their roots are doused with nutrients carried through water via a hydroponic (or sometimes aeroponic or aquaponic) system. Up to 90% less water is used per plant than in traditional outdoor agriculture because water is recycled in the system. Aeroponics uses even less.
Sophisticated LED lighting systems provide tailored lighting for plants depending on where they are in their growth cycle. While there are current disagreements on how energy efficient a vertical farm can be due to their dependency on artificial lights, major players in the lighting industry, like Philips Lighting, are making promising investments in this area. And in many examples, vertical farms are taking additional ecologically-sound steps, like harvesting solar energy (Metropolis Farms) or experimenting with bioreactors to help power their gardens.
Higher yields = More food for all
As the global population increases, we need more dependable sources of food to feed the world. According to the FAO's 2017 Global report on food crises, "Climate disasters--mainly drought--were also major triggers of food crises in 23 countries, two-thirds of them in Africa, and were responsible for pushing some 39 million people into acute food insecurity." Hence farming technology that doesn't depend on the right weather or precipitation has the potential to be a lifesaver globally--especially to feed populations where drought is common.
Vertical farms can grow crops regardless of the season or weather. Because farms grow up instead of out, land use is minimized. Crop production in a comparable square foot area can be exponential in a vertical farm. For example, one of Japan's vertical farms, Mirai, has over 25,000 square feet producing 10,000 heads of lettuce per day which is 100 times more per square foot than traditional methods. The Metropolis, which grows a variety of crops, touts their technology can grow 1 acre (43,560 sq feet) of food in 36 square feet.
Farming nuisances, like bugs and disease, are controlled easier in an indoor setting too. Constant air circulation helps keep annoying fungus, like powdery mildew, at bay and there are fewer entry points for pests. As these are closely-monitored systems, weeds are rare and easy to identify.
Vertical farming reduces environmental impact because plants are grown in a soilless medium (often held in place by plant bi-products like coconut coir or lava rock) thus eliminating the need to rotate crops or amend soil.
Crops no longer need to take transnational boat and truck rides to reach consumers if there is a local vertical farm.
Local food = Fresher food & less pollution
Vertical farms can pop up in urban environments just about anywhere because large swaths of land are not necessary. One trend is to build them in unused spaces--like London's Growing Underground--a vertical farm built in a former air-raid shelter from World War II. Constructing vertical farms inside cities means that no new land (except where the building sits) needs to be redeveloped.
Growing produce locally reduces supply-chain transportation distance and costs. This is especially significant today because of the high demand for out-of-season produce year-round. Transportation time and pollution are minimized while food accessibility increases.
Vertical agriculture has the potential to bring local foods back into the global food system. They utilize technology to make plants grow faster and more efficiently while minimizing environmental impact and miles of food transportation. Vertical farms are truly paving the way for a more sustainable future food system.