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As our population grows, we’re going to need a lot more farms to feed the planet. Yet, in a lot of places, farming is almost impossible. And much of the land we can use for farming is disappearing.

With so many farms on land, could we build farms vertically to save space? Maybe it’s time to grow … up? Where do we need vertical farms?

What would it take to build them? How could they help to save the planet?

The United States has 10 percent of the world’s farmland. But between the years 1992 and 2012, over 12 million hectares (31 million acres) of it was gobbled up due to development. That’s 70 hectares (175 acres) per hour. As populations grow, this is happening in other countries around the world too. So where can we grow food?

People have built farms all over our planet, in the most unlikely places. We’ve grown food in arid deserts and on the sides of mountains, and used greenhouses to extend growing seasons.

But what about in a plantscraper? A Swedish company called Plantagon is working on one right now. The $40 million World Food Building, in Sweden, is set to open this year. The company calls this process “agritechture.”

So why should we farm vertically? Well, we’d save a lot of space and water. In fact, vertical farming saves 80-95% of the water used in traditional outdoor farming, by using computer controlled mist and slow drip systems. Vertical farming also means we wouldn’t need expensive combines and tractors.

Cities would have fresher veggies, and we wouldn’t have to send trucks great distances to transport food. This would cut pollution too. So how, exactly, could we build a vertical farm?

Using the power of AI, companies such as Belgium’s Urban Crop Solutions are creating climate-controlled vertical farms up to 24 levels high. Farmers can grow anywhere from 75,000 to 91.5 million crops per year indoors.

The company also sells indoor vertical farming kits for 12 m (40 ft) shipping containers. These kits offer four to six levels, which can grow up to 54,000 crops per year.

With the ability to control the lighting, moisture levels and nutrients for each type of crop by using computers, plants grow much faster in a vertical farm. Plus, vertical farms don’t require pesticides, since they are contained indoors and are high up off the ground where many insects thrive.

The majority of the crops grown in vertical farms include leafy green vegetables such as kale, bok choi, watercress, arugula, lettuce, mizuna, mustard greens, collard greens, basil, mint, chard and chives. That’s almost everything you’d need for a power smoothie.

Companies have started building vertical farms in existing urban spaces, such as abandoned warehouses and factories. The vertical farms can turn cities’ excess heat and waste into vital assets for local food production.

In China, entire districts are devoted to agriculture and vertical farming. With a rapidly growing population, less and less land has become available, and pollution is a big problem for traditional farms. In this case, growing vertically has become a necessity.

Vertical farms have proven to be invaluable after natural disasters, such as the destruction of the nuclear power plant at Fukushima in Japan in 2011. Since land near the reactor was not safe for growing crops, consumers were happy to have lettuce grown indoors.

Five years later, there were more than 190 vertical farms in Japan. One company says it grows 21,000 heads of lettuce per day. That’s a lot of salad!

Many countries in the Middle East import almost 80% of their food due to their arid climate and landscape. Vertical farms could drastically improve this situation, and would also create more jobs in the area.

Tech companies like Google, Amazon and Asia-Pacific are already investing in vertical farming and automated agriculture. Soon we’ll start seeing vertical farms in many more urban areas. These will help bring communities together and provide safe access to nutritious food.

But in order for vertical farms to succeed, they will need the backing of consumers. Some people argue that this kind of farm is too unnatural or expensive, while others like the idea of fresh food produced closer to home. What do you think about it? Let us know in the comments below.

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