The age-old notion that farming only happens in distant fields disconnected from residential and urban centers no longer holds true. Over the past several decades, innovative agriculturists have been working to bring farms closer to consumers. Vertical farming is one way used by growers to bring fruits and vegetables closer to your table.
Traditionally, farming has always required vast amounts of space and water to grow produce. Farms are not ideally situated near burgeoning cities for a variety of reasons. Urbanization and changing zoning restrictions can force regular farms near cities to shut down. As a result, most agricultural facilities are built farther from population centers.
The use of space in cities has gravitated towards vertical rather than horizontal. Residential and commercial buildings are built tall to maximize the space requirements of a growing population. Available space is minimal. Vertical farming capitalizes on this reality to produce food within city limits.
What is Vertical Farming?
Agriculturist and author Gilbert Bailey coined the term “vertical farming”. He was referencing the vertical nature of plant growth. At present, vertical farming refers to growing plants on stacked layers.
Vertical farming uses shelves which can be suspended on fences, walls, or stacked to grow produce. Most vertical farms make use of hydroponics, a method of growing where plants are grown in nutrient-rich water. Another common method is aeroponics, where the roots of plants are regularly sprayed with nutrients and water.
These methods are often complemented with artificial or natural light to spur photosynthesis and are implemented with the aid of technology for improved monitoring.
How is it implemented?
Vertical farming is implemented in a variety of ways. A number of which are quite interesting. An example would be the inclusion of vertical farms in the design and management of mixed-use skyscrapers. Developers build these types of high-rise residential buildings to encourage residents to grow their own food based on community and personal requirements. However, these aren’t meant to grow produce on a commercial level.
Companies have also developed innovative ways to implement vertical farming in non-agricultural locations. Agriculturists are now using vertical farming methodologies in used shipping containers. Companies can move and stack the containers in urban locations. Some companies remotely monitor the growth of produce via computer vision and neural networks.
Critics of vertical farming systems, however, are quick to point out perceived flaws in this form of production.
Opponents argue that gains from VF logistical advantages are still not enough. They contend that the added costs brought about by the need to use additional power for artificial light, climate control, and monitoring systems. In locations that rely on environmentally unfriendly energy sources, this is said to be a net detriment. This also adds to the idea that VF is cost-ineffective.
What are the benefits?
Aside from decreasing the travel time between farms and dining tables, proponents of vertical farming claim that their method provides other benefits as well.
Produce grown in vertical farming conditions are independent of external weather. This makes them less vulnerable to strong wind, flooding, and heat waves.
Proponents also claim that their methods are environmentally sustainable. They cite the use of modern techniques such as the integration of natural lighting and the use of water recapture methods which significantly decreases water consumption to support their claim.
All of this and more, despite its perceived inefficiencies, may still be worth exploring. The world’s rapidly growing population, scarcity and rising prices of food remain tangible issues. New developments in vertical farming may provide solutions to these problems.
YouTube: Growing Up – How Vertical Farming Works | The B1M
Photo credit: The feature image has been done by CityofStPete. The photo “aquaponic basil” has been taken by Chris Bentley.
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