One potential solution can be the growing trend of vertical farming – a concept that utilizes the old school crop farms and condenses them into much smaller factory-like sites where conditions can be optimized and yields – significantly increased. A prime example of this concept would be facilities like “Aero Farms” in New Jersey that produce crops in an enclosed environment where almost everything (from the lighting and ambient temperature to soil conditions and nutrients) are carefully controlled. The facility uses extensive “vertical racking” to optimize space – a methodology that is way more effective compared to a conventional, horizontal crop farm. This enables vertical farms to be located on a far smaller site and much closer to an established urban area.
You might be wondering about the actual, practical benefits of this. Well, the innovation greatly reduces the extent of haulage or food miles required to transport produce to consumers, cutting CO2 emissions. Moreover, the process of crop production is insulated from seasonal weather patterns that are highly susceptible to disruption as a result of our changing climate. On a vertical farm, lighting, water and temperature can all be optimized to remove climatic risks and enhance production rates. As a result, sites like Mariah’s facility near Tokyo, the world’s largest city, are able to generate yields that are 50 to 100 times greater than that of a traditional crop farm. The use of a controlled environment also eliminates the loss of birds and insects that must be factored in on conventional farms, cutting the need for harmful pesticides and improving the quality of produce. Vertical farms also optimize the level of nutrients that crops receive, solving the challenge of finding a sufficient extent of suitable farming land in close proximity to a major urban area. In many instances, the soil is also removed altogether and crops are grown on specially engineered membranes, where they are sprayed with nutrient-rich solutions. Of course, vertical farms do have their limitations – we are going to talk about them in part 2 of this article.
Though the cost and availability of land for vertical farms in urban areas can pose many challenges, a lot of professional growers seem to find success in using old factories and disused warehouses to make it all happen. If we could get the government involved, grander schemes and new initiatives from their side could even include the production of fish and honey, whilst reconnecting consumers with the food production process and establishing sustainable jobs for the surrounding communities these vertical farms are located in. While vertical farmers still only represent a small part of the global food production industry, the benefits they offer to our ever-expanding population could utterly transform the farming landscape for the better.