Vertical Farming New technology makes farming in urban areas possible

Glossary

Aeroponics: a process for watering which a mist is sprayed onto exposed roots

Algorithms: a process or rules to be followed, supported by calculations

Carbon emissions: the sum of greenhouse gases that are produced directly and indirectly by humans

Conventionally: a traditional way that something is done

Optimal: the ideal environment, level to be achieved

Proximity: nearby, close in relationship

How does vertical farming work?

Vertical farming is a modern practice that uses aeroponics to grow produce indoors. The idea behind the new farming method is to increase the amount of produce grown while decreasing the growing time. According to Marc Oshima, the chief marketing officer of a vertical farming company called AeroFarms, vertical farming “can take the exact same seeds that are out in the field that may take 30 to 45 days to grow, [and] we can grow it in 12 to 16 days by creating the perfect environment.” An ideal environment for growing is created using technology that is unique to vertical farming. Looking deeper into the growing process- plants are stacked inside of a tall, A-frame structure underneath LED lights. Aeroponics makes the system uncommon in the fact that the roots of the plants are exposed and no soil is used for growing. Instead, plants are delivered air, water, and nutrients by a fog that mimics optimal growing conditions (Feldberg). Many growers are finding the aeroponics method to be a very beneficial way to grow produce in urban, arid conditions.

The following video explains the process of vertical farming and goes more in depth as to how it works.

What are the benefits of the vertical farming method?

By using aeroponics to grow produce, vertical farms conserve water and allow producers to cultivate crops in close proximity to consumers. The technology used in aeroponics consists of an A-frame, closed loop system that recaptures excess moisture from the environment. For instance, testing done at facilities in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Arizona found that “a conventionally grown head of lettuce uses about 13 gallons of water to reach maturity, [yet] in an Urban Seed greenhouse, lettuce will grow on just 22 ounces” (Feldberg). As a result, vertical farming can be successful in cities that lack water resources, and therefore the farms are closer to consumers. This is a major selling point for vertical farms because the produce does not have to be shipped far. If the produce is fresh and tasteful, it will appeal to more consumers and buyers. Marion Nestle, a professor of food studies at New York University, highly regards the quality of vertical farm produce, compared to typical grocery store produce, after tasting samples that AeroFarms sells in local New York communities. With the support of many food experts, scientists, engineers, and consumers, vertical farms are taking off around the United States.

Where is it being implemented in the United States?

Vertical farming can be found in urban areas across the United States. With the technology used to vertical farm, large yields can be grown in very small areas, especially in crowded cities. According to Feldberg, a company named Urban Seed started “an assemblage of high-tech greenhouses located on a small plot of land smack in the center of Las Vegas. Eventually the space will hold six 6,500-square-foot greenhouses that will produce 25 different crops.” For many buyers, it is convenient to have the produce in such close proximity because it stays fresh. Restaurants, grocery stores, families, and even animals will value the easy access to tasteful foods. Paignton Zoo Environmental Park in Devon is notably catching on to the vertical farming practice. A VertiCrop Garden located inside the premises of the zoo supplies food for the animals, reducing the amount of produce that must be shipped in ("Vertical farms: towards new age of Green Living"). The flexibility of growing crops that are in demand and eliminating produce transportation allows the zoo to be self-sufficient. Even though transportation costs are eliminated in vertical farming, the technology used can be costly.

Does the cost of vertical farming outweigh its benefits?

With the technology used in vertical farming, the process is expensive. Even though it is environmentally efficient, vertical farming is not cost efficient because of the high energy costs required to maintain a constant environment for the produce to grow in. According to Bruce Bugbee, a professor of crop physiology at Utah State University, “Transportation costs account for about 4 percent of the energy in the food system, and the energy for electric lights is much greater than that”. Electrical bills must cover the steep cost of LED lights that run 24/7, temperature controls, and power to run the facility. For many larger vertical farming corporations, these expenses can make it to break even, yet small businesses have found economic success. Dan Albert, owner of FarmBox greens, runs a vertical farming system in his garage in Seattle, and “[the farm] has revenue of under $500,000, but was profitable enough in 2014 that Mr. Albert quit his day job as a landscape architect to farm full time. He now has three employees and sells his greens to about 50 restaurants in the Seattle area, a local grocery chain and four weekly farmers’ markets” (Zimmerman). Albert’s small vertical farm provides enough fresh produce for numerous consumers in his community, and has become a profitable business. He was able to provide an adequate amount of produce to locals, yet vertical farming can be looked at on a larger scope: supporting large populations.

Why haven’t people become completely dependent on produce from vertical farming?

Vertical farms have the potential to support an entire population, yet some setbacks may prevent this from happening. As vertical farms get bigger and bigger, they face the challenge of generating enough energy for the plants and paying the steep costs that come with it. Gene Giacomelli, the director of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, explains, “The upshot is that indoor farming can produce as much as 20 times the amount of food per unit area as conventional outdoor farming… however, they will need more electricity, not just for lighting but to run equipment like pumps and fans.” The electricity bills have prevented many vertical farming companies from making a profit, which makes it challenging to run the practice. Yet, companies such as AeroFarms and its competitors are still optimistic about the future. The co-founder of AeroFarms, David Rosenburg, said “although this business was not profitable, he believed that would change when it got larger. You really need economies of scale for this to work, to address a host of complexities.” Vertical farming companies will continue to grow produce in urban areas and find ways to reduce electricity bills. Even though the practice is not sustainable right now, the future is bright.

Works Cited

Alter, Lloyd. “Vertical farms: Wrong on so many levels.” Treehugger, 22 Feb. 2016, http://www.treehugger.com/green-architecture/vertical-farms-wrong-so-many-levels.html?scrlybrkr=ac892d81. Accessed 26 Jan. 2017.

D'Souza, Steven. “No sunlight, no soil, no problem: Vertical farms take growing indoors.” CBC News, 28 Dec. 2016, http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/vertical-farms-indoor-farming-1.3911835?scrlybrkr=5d474edc. Accessed 25 Jan. 2017.

Feldberg, Sarah. “Farm Of The Future: What Grows In Las Vegas Stays In Las Vegas.” Minnesota Public Radio, 23 Jan. 2017, http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/01/23/509718598/farm-of-the-future-what-grows-in-las-vegas-stays-in-las-vegas?scrlybrkr=0ee18d7c. Accessed 26 Jan. 2017.

“The Vertical Farm: The World Grows Up.” Kirkus Reviews, vol. 78, no. 13, 1 July 2010, pp. 603-603, http://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?vid=14&sid=e319c6a9-5482-451b-866d-cd19e279ae14%40sessionmgr101&hid=128&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=52564922&db=lxh. Accessed 31 Jan. 2017.

“This Farm of the Future Uses No Soil and 95% Less Water.” YouTube, uploaded by Seeker Stories, 5 July 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_tvJtUHnmU&scrlybrkr=a2f701bf. Accessed 31 Jan. 2017.

"Vertical Farms: Towards New Age of Green Living." ProQuest Newsstand, Apr 13 2011, https://search.proquest.com/docview/861512562?accountid=42214. Accessed 27 Jan. 2017.

Zimmerman, Eilene. “Growing Greens in the Spare Room as ‘Vertical Farm’ Start-Ups Flourish.” The New York Times, 29 June 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/30/business/smallbusiness/growing-greens-in-the-spare-room-as-vertical-farm-start-ups-flourish.html?_r=0. Accessed 5 Feb. 2017.

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