Are Vertical Farms on the Rise? Part 1: Case Studies

After spending the last two
blogs on how food waste was reduced during wartime, I’d like to spend the next two weeks talking about hydroponic vertical urban farming. According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, food production needs to increase by 70% by 2050 to supply enough food for the 9.1 billion people. Will indoor vertical food production be a scalable and sustainable way to feed our growing population? Would data about its efficacy make it more palatable for consumers to adopt?

Dickson Despommier, the widely recogni20101211_tqp001zed progenitor of vertical farming, says it makes sense to move farms to cities since by 2050 about 70% of the world’s population will be living in urban areas. Hydroponic farming allows almost any kind of plant to be grown in nutrient-rich water inside and a medium such as gravel, wool or perlite. A constant flow of air gives the plants the necessary carbon dioxide.

Growing Underground, which opened in 2015, uses old World War II tunnels underneath the Clapham area of London to produce a range of vegetables and herbs including celery, rocket, parsley, radish and mustard leaf. The project doesn’t use pesticides, requires 70% less water than open-field farming and boasts ‘farm to fork in under four hours.’ It follows the Mirai Group’s 2,500 square meter indoor farm  in Japan which produces 10,000 heads of lettuce per day with 99% less water than traditional farms. Startups like Infarm and others are adding vertical gardens to the produce aisle of supermarkets in Berlin. I’d love to see more data from these groups that outline the costs of vertical farming versus crop yields and sustainability metrics.

The enormous positive implications for food security on a local and national level are astounding to think about. Bringing food production indoors takes away a lot of uncertainty that traditional farming has. It’s very exciting to think that vertical farming technology could be a solution to ending world hunger. Next week I’ll take a look at the economic feasibility of implementing this new technology and what are some of the challenges to doing so.


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