Vertical Farming: Cornfields are behind the Third Door on the Left
“Due to unpredictable weather patterns that destroy millions of tons of crops each year and a growing human population set to peak at about 9 billion, some future-focused innovators are looking for better ways to keep food on the table. Two neo-farm prototypes currently evolving on separate continents share a common concept: urban farming as the future of sustainable agriculture.” — Venessa Posavec, Future Blogger.
In the two years since Venessa’s article, the notion of skyscraper farms has not died off. However, vertical farming has taken a more cautious and practical turn.
“The idea of vertical farming is all the rage right now,” says Michaeleen Doucleff at NPR’s The Salt. “Architects and engineers have come up with spectacular concepts for lofty buildings that could function as urban food centers of the future.”
Doucleff notes that in Sweden “they’re planning a 177-foot skyscraper to farm leafy greens at the edge of each floor. But so far, most vertical gardens that are up and running actually look more like large greenhouses than city towers. And many horticulturists don’t think sky-high farms in cities are practical.”
Sadly for those of us who dream of aforementioned and illustrated mega towers of amber waves of grain or banana jungles from fifty stories up, “the future of vertical farming…lies not in city skyscrapers, but rather in large warehouses located in the suburbs, where real estate and electricity are cheaper.”
Douclef points out that Barry Holtz and his company Caliber Biotherapeutics “have built a 150,000-square-foot ‘plant factory’ in Texas that is completely closed off from the outside world. They grow 2.2 million plants, stacked up 50 feet high, all underneath the magenta glow of blue and red LEDS.”
“A photon is a terrible thing to waste,” Holtz explains. “So we developed these lights to correctly match the photosynthesis needs of our plants. We get almost 20 percent faster growth rate and save a lot energy.”
The pay off, Holtz says, is the efficiency in water and electricity use.
“We’ve done some calculations, and we lose less water in one day than a KFC restaurant uses, because we recycle all of it.”
This method of efficiency is most essential as global fresh water availability per person continues to constrict, and is wonderful for singular projects, such as those demonstrated in Sweden and Texas. The trick will be translating the dynamics of these small projects onto a larger canvass as entire regions in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe contest with shifting climes heading into the 2020s.