The Green Appeal of Vertical Farms
Will vertical farms feed the cities of the future?
Stepping into a vertical farm is like being transported into the middle of a sci-fi movie. These high-tech indoor farms grow food six meters in the air using a combination of hydroponics, artificial intelligence and LED lighting. Proponents of vertical farms say they’re an answer to doomsday predictions about the rising populations of cities and the ever-worsening global food crisis. Certainly, their ground-breaking use of technology and the massive investments made in the sector seem to support this. However, the number of failed startups littering the industry suggest that vertical farming is far from easy and perhaps not as promising as first presumed.
Vertical farms: the good and the not-so-good
At present, vertical farms aren’t the answer to our population and food security problems. They also don’t appear to be the only promising indoor alternative to traditional farms. However, their potential for the future is apparent and supported by the massive amounts of funding these farms have received so far. In July 2017 Plenty raised $200 million in a Series B round of funding, while Aerofarms has raised $130 million to date. Investors include big names such as IKEA, SoftBank and Bezos Expeditions. Negotiating the pitfalls of the vertical farming industry is tricky, as explored in this article by Chris Michael of Bright Agrotech, and it will be interesting to see how existing and new farms respond to the challenges facing them.
3 Inspiring Vertical Farms
Based in New Jersey, USA, Aerofarms grows leafy greens in large trays, stacked six meters high in repurposed industrial buildings. They sell their produce under the Dream Greens brand and have a passion for creating locally grown, delicious produce. They say they their farms use 95% less water than field farmed-food and yields 390 times higher per square foot annually.
This San Francisco-based farm grows crops on six-meter high vertical poles. Their roots are fed by a trickle of nutrient rich water and light is provided by LEDs. Plenty are currently looking for ways to expand the variety of crops grown by vertical farms and to incorporate renewable energy sources into their farms. Their aim is to build farms near major urban centres to make fresh produce more accessible for city-dwellers. Early in 2018 they announced their intention to build 300 indoor farms in or near major Chinese cities.
Freight Farms have a different focus to most other vertical farms. Their Leafy Green Machine (LGM) is a fully assembled, vertical hydroponic farming system built inside a shipping container. This farm-in-a-box grows greens in any climate and location, year-round. Each LGM includes a seedling growth area and 256 vertical crop columns, capable of growing 2-4 tons of produce per year. The LGM has been successfully used to create urban farms in cities like New York and to supplement existing outdoor farming activities.