“Howard Odum, the noted ecologist, once remarked: ‘Nature has all the answers. What is your question? Mine is, how can a city bio-mimic a functional ecosystem?’”
Rise of the Vertical Farming VPRO documentary 2017
VERTICAL FARMIG: What’s it all about?
If you’re new to the concept of vertical farming, you might have no earthly idea what the term means. Take a moment, however, and you’re sure to arrive at the right answer.
Vertical farming is the futuristic practice of growing produce in vertically-stacked layers – most of the time indoors. The practice can use soil, hydroponic, aeroponic, or aquaponic growing methods, and vertical farms have the unique ability to produce food in challenging environments by overcoming the scarcity or unavailability of arable land.
This innovative method of farming helps mountainside towns, deserts and cities grow various types of fruits and vegetables by relying on skyscraper-like designs and precision agriculture methods.
SO WHAT HAS MOTIVATED THIS AGRICULTURAL UPHEAVAL, THIS REINVENTION OF THE TRADITIONAL MODEL?
Well, necessity for one.
Given that soil-based agriculture accounts for around 38% of Earth’s landmass this novel idea hints at a sustainable future for farming, relying on economy of space to provide nourishment for an expanding population.
Another factor is simple innovation: an inherent desire to introduce processes which streamline and enhance, resulting in consistent year-round produce, reduced food miles and contamination, faster growth, superior nutrient uptake – the list goes on and on.
THE HISTORY OF VERTICAL FARMING
Vertical farming might sound like a postmodern concept, but in fact the term was coined in 1915 by American geologist Gilbert Ellis Bailey.
The author, however, was referring to plants themselves as vertical – layered, vertically-grown farmland did not enter the equation until the year 2000, when it was proposed by Dickson D. Despommier, Ph.D, a professor at Colombia University Medical School.
The idea of raising crops without soil, sunlight or huge amounts of water – much less in towers, silos and factories – would once have been deemed ludicrous.
Not any more.
THE BENEFITS OF VERTICAL FARMING
As mentioned, the reality of finite land twinned with an exploding population means the pursuit of new and novel methods of agriculture is wholly necessary.
But independent of that, there are many advantages of vertical farming when compared to the traditional method.
1/ Faster plant growth
2/ Less water usage
3/ A higher crop yield per square meter
4/ Year-round cultivation (yield not weather-dependent)
5/ More control over resources the crops need
6/ Amore predicable nutrient content
7/ No need for use of pesticides and herbicides
8/ Reduced fossil fuel usage (no farm machines, reduced transportation miles)
9/ Returns farmland to nature and restores ecosystem
When viewed in those terms, it’s easy to see why vertical farming has taken off. Indeed, it’s considered by many to be the future of food production.
Seventeen years on and the vertical farming industry is booming, with many firms throughout the world growing vegetables and herbs in capacious old warehouses and multilevel factories – some of them right in the beating heart of urban centers.
ONE GREAT EXAMPLE OF SUCH A COMPANY IS MINICROPS.
Launched this past July, MiniCrops specialise in growing fresh, pesticide and herbicide-free, sustainable food for local communities, homes, and businesses.
Operating out of a previously disused warehouse in Deptford, south-east London, MiniCrops’ brand-new vertical farm has already begun servicing the local community and indeed, wider communities across London and Greater London.
At present, MiniCrops are focusing on growing microgreens such as micro broccoli, micro cabbage, red amaranth and coriander to name but a few.
Ingredients are completely free of pesticides and herbicides and are dispatched to customers immediately following their harvest. In fact, the promise is that you’ll receive your delivery within just 1 to 6 hours of harvest.
The MiniCrops team are calling their produce “post-organic” – not only because of the lack of pesticides and herbicides, but also because they focus on waste and energy minimization – a look to creating produce for the future.
They claim that a lot of their produce is also more highly concentrated in terms of nutrients and in many cases, contains much more than fully-grown vegetables on a per gram basis. These claims are supported by numerous U.S. studies in previous years.
The organisation intends to do this by pursuing outreach projects and tackling the most pressing urban problems of our time.
THE WAY OF THE FUTURE
The idea of vertical farms might boggle the mind, but by making the most economic use of space, and cutting costs across the board, these towers of invention offer a real insight into the future of agriculture.
With companies like MicroCrops continuing to blaze a trail, that future doesn’t look quite so distant.
What do you think about vertical farming?
Pop your thoughts in the comments below; we’d love to hear your take.