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Things You Should Know About Vertical Farming

Vertical Farming

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Vertical Farming was first coined in the early 1900s, but Despommier brought media attention to this recently through his research on Vertical Farming. He began teaching this emerging idea in 1999, in the Columbia class called Medical Ecology. 

Indoor Vertical Farming is a Farming method that grows crops in layers, in less space and water. Generally, Vertical Farming uses 95% less water than conventional farming. This method is getting more popular and important because of the growing world populations and as a result, many eco-friendly farms are expanding rapidly.

Elon Musk’s younger brother Kimbal is also working on a similar project. Musk’s mission is to bring fresh, local food to cities around the world with his company Square Roots. Kimbal Musk was awarded “Global Social Entrepreneur” in 2017 by the Schwab Foundation, a sister organization to the World Economic Forum, for Square Roots. 

What is Vertical Farming?

Vertical Farming

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Vertical Farming or vertical agriculture facilitates practical indoor crops cultivation, in urban cities. It’s a form of eco-friendly farming, urban agriculture and controlled-environment agriculture. This method will help in producing food anywhere, in less soil and water.

Vertical Farming usually uses natural light and LED-based artificial light. This method is often driven by a renewable power source such as solar power or wind turbines. It helps urban areas be self-sufficient by reducing the amount of farmland needed and eliminating deforestation and pollution.

What is Hydroponics?

Hydroponics is agricultural production without using soil. Hydroponic flowers, herbs, and vegetables are planted in inert growing media and supplied with nutrient-rich solutions, oxygen, and water.

What is aeroponic?

Aeroponics is a plant-cultivation technique in which the roots hang suspended in the air while the nutrient solution is delivered to them in the form of a fine mist.

How Does Vertical Farming Companies Work?

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One of the many companies that use vertical space to grow vegetables is AeroFarms. On many-shelved farming operations, it grows in a fine mist filled with nutrients instead of a typical growing environment like Rockwool and nutrient-rich water. But AeroFarms is an outlier in the Vertical Farming space.

The typical vertical farm looks a lot more like that at Bowery, a company that uses a more traditional hydroponics system to grow their produce. Essentially, Bowery grows greens and other veggies in a nutrient-rich tray of water, which is consistently recycled in a closed-loop system. This system is then replicated mass and expanded not horizontally, but vertically to maximize space. But because all these plants are stacked on top of each other, access to light becomes a big obstacle, which means that each shelf is equipped with LED lights to act as artificial sunlight.

San Francisco-based Plenty claims to produce 400x times the yield of a conventional farm. Some operations like Plenty go even further by shining only the beneficial colours in the light spectrum for growth.

While some of these large-scale vertical farms can quickly become laden with advanced technologies like robotic arms and AI monitoring systems, at their most basic, vertical farms use a combination of artificial sunlight and vertical space to maximize the amount of yield per acre.

Is it possible to do Vertical Farming at home?

Companies are promoting new, high-tech equipment capable of turning any urban person into a farmer. companies like Aspara, AeroGarden, and Garden Tower are providing high-end solutions for Vertical Farming at home with features such as ‘vacation’ keeps your plants prosperous and growing while you’re away. They have water and food reminders plus they are easy to set up.

Why Vertical Farming? The Benefits of Indoor Vertical Farming:

The typical American farm is 444 acres, and, if you’re a lettuce farmer, on average you can pull around 36200 lbs per acre from your field every year. Vertical Farming, however, boasts much higher yields per square foot, ‘Plenty’ Vertical Farming company claims to produce 400x times the yield of a conventional farm.

This is where the benefits of a vertical farm begin, but it’s certainly not where they end. Vertical Farming proponents point to disease and pest prevention, water-saving, season extension, and exacting control as some of the many benefits of growing vertically. In a sealed, indoor environment disease and pests are rare, meaning that pesticide and herbicide use is at its minimum.

Hydro or aquaponics systems which are common in urban Vertical Farming, recycle water in a closed-loop system and can conserve up 95% of the water used. While artificial lights mean that plants can grow regardless of the season and location. You could theoretically grow plants right next to a supermarket. And this farming method can do all this without depleting the soil. 

What are not so glamorous parts of Vertical Farming? The Disadvantages of Indoor Vertical Farming:

The technology-ridden vertical farm comes at a high cost, both in terms of money and the environment. To start-up just one of these food factories, costs could be as high as $39 million. Which is prohibitively expensive even for an already costly industry, which might require as much as $5 million just to start a grain farming operation in Iowa.

Even Vertical Farming in shipping containers, which have a small startup cost compared to big warehouse farms like AeroFarms or Plenty, is expensive. In part, this has to do with the expense of retrofitting a shipping container, but it can also be tied back to the energy required for lights, heating, ventilation, and cooling. 

Yes, vertical farms do cut down on the need for transportation, but Paul West, lead scientist at the Global Landscapes Initiative at the University of Minnesota, asserts that 80% of a farm’s carbon emissions are created on the farm, so food miles are negligible.

The key thing to keep in mind here is that vertical farms can only grow a small range of veggies, like lettuce greens, and beans, efficiently and profitably. And when grown outdoors these crops already tend to have low emissions footprints. Essentially, Vertical Farming is tinkering at the edges when it comes to agriculture’s carbon footprint. 

Vertical Farming on Mars

Vertical Farming on Mars

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Learning plant cultivation in space will be important to future space travelers for long-duration visits. Not only is plant-based food a supplement to a prepackaged diet but it’s important to have fresh vegetables for stressed-out astronauts who are missing home. 

Plants need full-spectrum sunlight or artificial light Ex. Red light encourages plants to produce flowers or fruits, and blue light foliage grows or boosts leaves provided they receive a suitable environment.

On Mars, plants can only grow in climate-controlled greenhouses, under bright lighting and nutrient-rich gels, where water will be delivered through liquid solutions at their roots or by a fine mist released from the roof. And anyone living on Mars will need many of these alien gardens; you can’t grow a salad from a petri dish.

Conclusion

According to research conducted by Civil Eats, a 30,000 sq ft New York City vertical farm might pay $216,000 annually just for lighting and power, and another $120,000 for air conditioning systems. These costs can differ drastically depending on the location of these vertical farms but the whole. The costs of most vertical farms lead to higher prices on the consumer side.  Techno-fixes like urban Vertical Farming are alluring, and when used in appropriate contexts, beneficial.

Grander schemes like this proposal could even see the vertical farming concept broadened to include the production of fish and honey while re-connecting consumers with the food production process and establishing sustainable jobs for the surrounding community. The concept of indoor vertical farming is a part of the global food production manufacturing. The benefits it offers to our ever-expanding population could change farming altogether.

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