The idea of vertical farms has been around for some time, but in practice it’s certainly not commonplace. However, this year, perhaps due in part to changing attitudes about urban homesteading, or the lack of suitable farmland, or just overcrowding, vertical farms are popping up in homes and in high-rises. Most notably, Singapore, a small country not known for its agricultural innovations at all, this week announced the opening of its first commercial vertical farm.
According to Wired, the ‘farm’ is a series of 120 aluminum towers that are essentially columns of irrigated troughs, suitable for growing up to half a ton of vegetables per year.
In fact, provided the expected investments come through, Channel News Asia reports that the farm will more than double in size by the end of 2013, giving it the capacity to provide two tons of vegetables annually to Singapore citizens.
The project is a huge win for the country, which up until now, imported 93% of its vegetables, due to its scant farming space.
Vertical indoor farming was first pioneered by Dickson Despommier, a professor at Columbia University, as a class project to bridge the gap between the environment and public health. According to his website, by 2050, nearly 80% of the earth’s population will live in urban areas, and will have increased by 3 billion people. Considering how much of the planet’s farmland is already in use, Despommier surmised we just won’t have the space to grow enough food to feed everyone by then, let alone have the fuel to transport it to the cities. Enter vertical farming.
The practice of growing food upwards has some remarkable benefits. When done properly, it saves water by recycling runoff, it almost eradicates the need for fossil fuels because it doesn’t require tractors or vehicles to ship the harvests. It can also convert abandoned city properties into urban food production centers, and is grown organically because it reportedly doesn’t require any herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers.
Aside from the obvious environmental advantages to adopting vertical farming, the practice could prove to have meaningful benefits for U.S. urban city dwellers living in “food deserts.” These are poorer neighborhoods, like West Oakland, CA, that are without grocery stores or access to food in general, save for the processed kinds that are purchased at convenience stores. Taking on vertical farming may have the ability to create jobs in those areas and would certainly facilitate a healthier, more organic way of eating.
If vertical farming is to teach us anything, perhaps it’s simply that if we want different results, we have to try different tactics.