Harvests of leafy greens and herbs that would normally require huge areas of land can now be grown in warehouses filled with towering stacks of planting shelves, where growing conditions are carefully regulated to produce more consistent crops. With several vertical farms already operational across the world, including Nordic Harvest’s recent fourteen-storey building in Denmark, the practice may be the go-to sustainable model for the future of agriculture.
Vertical farms use a variety of technology to make growing crops more efficient and environmentally friendly. The plants are grown directly in water, almost entirely eliminating the need for pesticides and artificial fertilisers that can otherwise cause significant harm to waterways. The closed-loop filtration systems also mean that vertical farms use up to 95% less water than typical field farming, preventing wastage and leaving local water supplies much better off. Inside the warehouse, climate conditions can be carefully monitored and controlled to keep growth consistent, and LEDs ensure plants are exposed to the perfect amount of light to grow. Although these systems require a huge amount of energy to run, the industry’s focus on sustainability means they prioritise using renewable sources such as wind and solar, keeping the entire operation eco-friendly.
One of the biggest advantages of vertical farms is the reduction of ‘food miles’ required for delivering their harvests to sale points. Without the need for large amounts of land, vertical farms can be set up much closer to the urban centres where most of their produce will be consumed. Less transportation means ingredients will not only arrive fresher but will also lower the carbon footprint of getting the crops to your plate. This change will be particularly powerful when it comes to reducing importing, whether wholesale in countries like Abu Dhabi, where there are currently plans to build the world’s largest vertical farm, or for season-specific foods that can be grown in climate-controlled vertical farms year-round. And that’s just on the large scale: one day, this style of technology could be available in your own home to make growing more of your own food simpler.
Although vertical farming is a remarkable venture, there is still a lot to be done before use of the technology becomes the norm. At this point, vertical farming is restricted to growing herbs and microgreens such as lettuce, meaning it won’t be able to replace conventional farming completely. However, ongoing research may yet discover the secret to growing more substantial plants using this method, and even if many crops continue to be grown in fields, some movement towards more sustainable practices is better than none. Additionally, vertical farms are expensive to build and run, though some companies such as Spread in Japan are finally starting to make a profit after nearly a decade of operation, paving the way for more viable models of production.
Vertical farms are a fascinating example of the future coming to life, challenging our preconceived notions of how industries usually work to create a more sustainable – and tasty! – way of living. The agricultural industry is one example of a necessity that can nevertheless change for the better, and we at Casper Magazine think vertical farming may just be the best path forward.
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