By the year 2050, nearly 80% of the earth’s population will reside in urban centers. Applying the most conservative estimates to current demographic trends, the human population will increase by about 3 billion people during the interim. An estimated 109 hectares of new land (about 20% more land than is represented by the country of Brazil) will be needed to grow enough food to feed them if traditional farming practices continue as they are practiced today. At present, throughout the world, over 80% of the land that is suitable for raising crops is in use (sources: FAO and NASA). Historically, some 15% of that has been laid waste by poor management practices. What can be done to avoid this impending disaster?
It has been estimated that it will require approximately 300 square feet of intensively farmed indoor space to produce enough food to support a single individual living in an extraterrestrial environment (e.g., on a space station or a colony on the moon or Mars). Working within the framework of these calculations, one vertical farm with an architectural footprint of one square city block and rising up to 30 stories (approximately 3 million square feet) could provide enough nutrition (2,000 calories /day/person) to comfortably accommodate the needs of 50,000 people employing technologies currently available. The answer to this problem is to grow our crops and other foodstuffs in what is referred to as a vertical farm.
Vertical farming is the practice of producing food in vertically stacked layers, such as in a skyscraper, used warehouse, or shipping container. Vertical farming uses indoor farming techniques and controlled environment agriculture (CEA) technology, where all environmental factors can be controlled.
American ecologist Dickson Despommier has been a chief advocate for vertical farms for over a decade. One concept of hers is a 21-story transparent skyscraper dedicated to growing food that could be built in the heart of a city like New York City. Foods grown in vertical buildings would be free of pesticides and other chemicals. A variety of crops could be cultivated in the same building. Crops could be grown year-round in any location including on desert land as well as tundras. There would be no chemical agricultural runoff into our waterways. There would be a significant saving in the use of fossil fuels needed to run farm machinery. Since the vertical farm building would supply the locality that it is standing in it would not be necessary to transport farm products long distances. This would save a great deal of money maintaining our infrastructure. We would not have the problem of weather-related crop failures. Energy used within the vertical farm building could be once more added to the grid. Urban employment would occur. Farmland could go back to nature which would help restore the echo systems. Vertical farming would eliminate the need for harmful herbicides and pesticides while maximizing food taste and nutrition. There would be a great efficient saving of water that could be reused in the process. Vertical farming would use 8% of the water required for land farming. Yields are approximately 20 times higher than the normal production volume of field crops. It would provide higher quality produce with greater nutritional value and a longer shelf life. The crops that are likely to be grown are high-value nutritious crops – like tomatoes, lettuces, green crops.
The bottom floor of the vertical agricultural building could even be used to produce aquaculture products high in protein. Aquaculture also is known as aquafarming is the farming of aquatic organisms such as fish, crustaceans, molluscs, and aquatic plants. An additional advantage to this aqua farming is that waste material from species of fish being farmed could easily be collected and used to produce needed energy in the vertical building.
So how does it work?
Inside the farm, there are no natural seasons, nights or days. Light, air humidity, and temperature are all tightly controlled. As soon as one harvest is in, another begins each plant is expected to yield between 22 and 30 harvests a year. Long rows of LED tubes shed light at the exact wavelength each plant needs to thrive. There is a great saving in the use of LED tubes that produce a purplish light which is much better for the growth of the plants than that of white light. Instead of soil, the plants are grown on a cloth, or in aquaponics and hydroponics systems. When cloth is used the roots of the plant are rooted on a cloth that is misted with nutrients.
Companies already poking around this field include Amazon, Starbucks, Kellogg, Target, and many of the world’s largest food-producing corporations. As seem to be the trend nowadays China is moving forward faster than the US. China will soon dominate. Its government is quietly building at least three “agricultural parks”–massive indoor growing fields. China’s serial food-quality crises have made safety and purity a paramount concern for consumers, and indoor farms offer unprecedented quality control and predictability.
The goal is to have as much control over the variables as possible.The atmosphere resembles a clean room in a chip factory. The “farmers” are white-coated technicians, adjusting the environment and maintaining electrical and digital systems that regulate growth. Some farms even have automated conveyors that periodically move seedlings to bigger beds, replanting and respacing them under slightly different lights. Produce grown under such conditions typically matures faster, has more leaves, is crisper, tastes better, and stays fresh considerably longer than field-raised plants. The amount of water used is as little as 2% of what would be necessary outdoors.
In the future of our cities will be designed to take full advantage of vertical farming. Vertical farming will produce the foodstuffs needed to feed the population within the city and its surrounding population. The city’s of the future will be designed with this in mind. In some mid-eastern nations, this is already being done.