Vertical farming is an innovative, efficient way to cultivate leafy green vegetables, herbs, and some smaller fruits and vegetables. These indoor, industrial-scale farming operations allow fresh produce to be grown in urban centers. And with consistent loss of arable land and a burgeoning world population to feed, growing food closer to where it’s needed makes good sense.
With CEA, Controlled Environment Agriculture practices, food can be produced in shipping containers, high-rise apartment buildings, or even old warehouses, allowing urban populations to repurpose buildings and have fresh, locally grown produce. The idea has its roots in rooftop gardening. The plants are arranged in stacked rows like shelves in a massive supermarket, allowing the most effective use of space to produce more food per square foot than traditional farming.
Using artificial growing lights, sometimes combined with natural sunlight, allows crops to mature and food to ripen quickly. No longer dependent on sunny weather, fresh, healthy produce is available year-round. Unexpected cold snaps and hurricanes do not pose the threat of immense crop loss for traditional farming. Unfortunately, the artificial lighting required to grow food in vertical farms creates a massive energy cost, passed on to the consumer.
There are several methods vertical farming deploys to avoid the weight of soil and the high water consumption of traditional agriculture. These tools include alternative growth methods like aeroponic, aquaponics, and hydroponic. Vertical farming often uses only between five and thirty percent of the water of traditional farming. These methods work best for lighter plants like tomatoes, herbs, and leafy greens.
Challenges and Benefits
Pollination presents perhaps the biggest challenge to vertical farming. In an indoor system, pollination must be done by hand, a costly and time-consuming process. Although the lack of insects makes pollination difficult, vertical farming’s isolation from the natural environment also benefits. Without pests and weeds, agriculture can be done with no harmful pesticides or herbicides.
Sustainable, affordable vertical farming is still a work in progress and not a perfect solution for world hunger. However, successful vertical farms such as AeroFarms in New Jersey, USA, and SkyFarms in Singapore have proven much. They prove that the possibilities are great for the world’s ever-increasing urban population.