For the last few years I have been following with excitement the work being done in the vertical farm industry. Vertical, indoor farming it is a fairly new form of farming which focuses on growing various types of green vegetables indoors using precise watering and lighting technology in a controlled indoor environment. Instead of a sprawling hundred or thousand plus acres outdoor, these indoor farms are built vertically to produce high quality vegetables with much greater crop output in an equivalent space.
But why is any of this important? There are a few reasons:
Water — Agriculture is estimated to use 70% of our fresh water. Because of business demands, population growth, climate change and other issues, having access to sufficient water to properly farm has become a concern for many farmers and connected communities. It is estimated that indoor, vertical farms use up 95% less water than traditional farms. Not to mention concerns related to water contamination to our groundwater supply due to traditional (meaning not organic) farming practices.
Land — Traditional industrial farming practices degrades soil quality over the years/decades. This combined with the considerable amount of land that outdoor farms require, has caused the need to create and find new farmland which many times comes at the cost of deforestation (ie. the recent fires in the Amazon). Indoor farms don’t require soil, and often utilizes old, empty warehouses formerly used for other purposes.
Population Growth — By 2050 it is estimated that the human population will reach nearly 10 billion people. Finding efficient ways to feed this increased number of people with a limited amount of resources like water and land will be essential. Indoor vertical farms by some estimates produce 350x the output that a traditional farm does.
There are other benefits: the decreased carbon footprint related to shipping from indoor farms closer to cities. Or organic farming practices in a controlled indoor environment free of any type of harmful pests. Both amazing benefits!
While vertical farms are still fairly new and concerns about costs and the energy needed to build and run them are real, it is exciting to see companies trying to address this important issue of getting clean, healthy food to a globally growing population. I have worked on farms in both the US and India, so I’m not trying to say outdoor farms aren’t needed, but we should be testing as many of these types of ideas as possible. We need to find the best ways to feed the world, while balancing financial investment and the strain placed on nature.
Below is a quick, nicely produced video that provides an overview on vertical farms and how they look.