While people around the world may differ on a million other issues, there’s one thing that’s certain: the global population isn’t getting any smaller. Along with that comes another fact of life: everyone has to eat. With a finite amount of resources to grow and supply food—and global hunger already a major problem with our current number of global residents—how are we going to avoid impending food insecurity?
Tough question for a Monday, we know. Luckily, Columbia University professor Dr. Dickson Despommiers came up with a really good answer in a classroom in 1999, and Sky Greens in Singapore is already showing just how much promise his idea holds.
Vertical farms like the one that SkyGreens has demonstrated in the video above allow a much higher produce yield per square foot than traditional farming methods. By utilizing modern technology to its fullest, we can grow substantial amounts of produce virtually anywhere we want.
Here are the key puzzle pieces and how they fit together.
Vertical farming produces crops year-round—anywhere and everywhere.
Photo: YouTube/Journeyman Pictures
Traditional farming is very climate-dependent. A sudden cold snap can kill (or seriously damage) crops in a very short period of time. Situations like the ongoing drought in California can drastically affect crop supplies—as well as prices.
Not only that, but being able to grow anywhere means we don’t just have to depend on a few specific regions of the globe to supply the majority of produce. Decentralizing our food supply makes sense in terms of feeding a growing population, as well as reducing shipping time (and carbon footprints). Bonus: the fresher the produce is, the better it tastes.
Vertical farming combines existing technologies in a sensible way.
You’ve probably heard of hydroponics (growing plants in water). Vertical farming uses aeroponics, an offshoot of hydroponics that allows plants to grow in a mist of water and nutrients and doesn’t require soil. Aeroponics is incredibly resource-efficient, both in terms of getting nutrients into plants and also in terms of the space used.
Combining aeroponics with LED lighting in the specific spectrum that plants need to grow, using automated systems to rotate flats of plants up to receive the appropriate amount of LED lighting, and the basic environmental controls that come with an indoor environment is a start. Harnessing solar and/or wind energy to power all that tech could really be a game changer for plant-based agriculture.
Photo: Flickr/Kari Sullivan
A company called Zero Carbon Food has already been successful at converting a disused WWII bomb shelter in London into a hydroponic salad tunnel. But ZCF co-founder Steven Dring told the Guardian, “Eventually we’d also like to go beyond underground to grow vertically – use the tiny footprint of a high rise and convert it into a farm….Urban farming will be the farming of the future.” ZCF’s current project even has Michelin-starred London chef Michel Roux, Jr. on board. Roux, Jr. said,
In the U.S., Portage, Indiana-based Green Sense Farms is currently the country’s largest indoor commercial vertical farm. The company claims to use just 0.1 percent of the water, land, and fertilizer used by comparable traditional farming methods. Other impressive stats that they claim include: harvesting 26 times per year, producing 46 pounds of oxygen daily, capturing 2 tons of carbon dioxide per month, and using absolutely no pesticides, herbicides, or preservatives on their produce. If that’s not enough, the company estimates that it can feed 20 million people per year.