There is a new kind of futuristic farming on the rise. In response to growing fears regarding dependency on fossil fuels, healthy agricultural practices, land and water, Vertical Farming has arrived. From Asia to North America, what people are referring to as farms of the future are beginning to sprout up in the most unlikely environments. Where can you find these farms? Try urban apartments, warehouses, or laboratories to name of few. Vertical farming is not all that new either. Academic professionals such as Columbia University's (NYC) Dickson Despommier, an ecologist who has actively been campaigning for vertical farms since 1999. His basis for arguing for vertical farm was primarily rooted in the desire to see the carbon footprint of agricultural transport decrease. With the wonders of technology, the advance of LEDs, and the integration of automation, vertical farming is showing promise in the agricultural industry.
One of the world's largest vertical farms opened its doors in April of 2013 and is attracting quite a bit of attention. Expanding over a 90,000 square foot space, Farmed Here CEO Jolanta Hardej has wasted no time getting this vertical farm up and running. The building blocks came into place when Farmed Here received a $100,000 loan from the enormously popular Whole Foods. This new business appears to be well on its way to accomplishing its mission of "transforming the way local and organic produce is grown and distributed, making it accessible to everyone by profitably growing high quality vegetables indoors, year round, which are distributed to our retail partners within 24 hours of harvest." New technology is believed to allow Farmed Here to produce upwards of 1 million pounds of organic greens such as mint, basil, lettuce and more, with no soil. How is this possible? Aquaponics.
The Technology of Aquaponics
Capable of being herbicide and pesticide free with year round growing, aquaponics has quite the promising appeal. At its core, aquaponics is the advancement of hydroponic technology in the form of a system of aquaculture. Aquaculture is literally raising fish below efforts of raising plants with nutrient rich water. This all occurs in same system. Farmed Here best describes the process as, "the symbiotic cultivation of plants and aquatic animals in water and nutrients recirculating environment."
The Why of Vertical Farming: Integrated Sustainability
Many view vertical farming as one of the leading ways to combat issues in the growth of food crops such as drought and the fast growing population of the planet. A large amount of vertical farming is stemming from studies indicating that population will swell within the next 4-5 decades and will be increasingly more difficult to feed. Yes, the population will grow, but many believe this growth will funnel specifically into cities. Thus one might think, what better way to resolve the many issues facing agriculture globally than to integrate an idea that follows major cultural shifts and resolves land and water issues. Vertical farming is also unique in that the concept allows for year round growing. This is possible due to the ability to control water, lighting, humidity, and CO2 levels. This means that vertical farming can take place in cities too. Vertical agriculture leads many to the question of what will happen to existing rural farmers. Fast Company recently wrote an article claiming that these futurist farmers possess the desire to supplement current efforts such as farms and greenhouses, but in this new and sustainable way. The efficient foreseen way to compliment existing farming efforts is to utilize the ability to grow year round. Year round growing is pivotal way to combat harsh growing seasons. Although Vertical farming is most definitely on the uptrend, it also has a few obstacles to overcome as well. A few of these potential roadblocks might include the initial cost to run LED lighting and growing room limitations for specific crops like tomatoes and grains.
The Future of Food
With a dedicated focus on rethinking agricultural spaces and desire to solve current issues facing the agricultural industry, vertical farming is promising. Ray Kurzweil is the Director of engineering at Google. Time Magazine recently interviewed Kurzweil on the topic of predicting how food will evolve into the future. Kurzweil wasted no time to point directly to vertical agriculture. Although he suggested a host of benefits, some of the highlights included the freeing up of land, decreases in pollution, and low food costs. Kurzweil even went as far as to say that, "the 2020's will be the decade of the vertical agriculture revolution".