The growth of the global population has made space a premium commodity. For instance, to feed London, England, would require land the size of Sweden. Dr, Dickson Despommier, the “father of vertical farming,” says, “The biggest problem facing us as a global species is where the food for the next three billion people will come from. So it could come from someplace other than a traditional farm, and the question is, could vertical farming and indoor agriculture solve that problem?”
Wanted: A Sustainable Option
Research says it takes a land mass the size of South America to feed seven billion people. The world’s population is estimated to exceed nine billion in 30 to 40 years. By 2050, we would need a land area about the size of Brazil to produce enough to feed the entire population. This won’t happen if we continue traditional farming the way we practice it today. Therefore, indoor agriculture is a sound idea that needs to be done soon.
At present, 80% of the land suitable for farming has already been used. However, due to poor farm management practices, 15% of these farmlands are in bad condition.
While the size of arable land is dwindling, the agriculture sector contributes highly to water contamination. It’s also contributing to deforestation (to claim more farming land), and greenhouse gas emissions. The prognosis: We are looking at a severe food crisis in a few years down the road.
Indoor Agriculture: A Ray of Hope Shining Through
Statistics spell doom and gloom. It is, therefore, tempting to give up and wait for the food crisis to strike us. But the optimists and visionaries of indoor agriculture are not giving up the fight. Historically, architects and scientists have looked into the practice of vertically layering crops as well as indoor agriculture. Gilbert Ellis Bailey coined the term “vertical farming” in 1915. In 1999, Despommier further popularized the concept. In his book, “The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century,” Despommier highlighted the potential of vertical farming and indoor agriculture as well as its impact on the planet and future generations.
Who Are the Mavericks in the Vertical Farming Space?
A Green Revolution is brewing and many ventures and companies are starting the movement in the space. Here is a list of leaders paving the way for vertical farming.
- 80 Acres Farms is a Cincinnati-based company founded in 2015 by food industry veterans Mike Zelkind and Tisha Livingston. 80 Acres Farms provides its customers with a wide variety of locally-grown, freshly picked leafy greens, micro greens, and vine crops. The company utilizes state-of-the-art automation technologies, AI-powered growing system, and data monitoring. Recently, 80 Acres Farms received significant funding from Virgo Investment Group to scale indoor vertical farming production.
- AeroFarms is an urban agricultural company based in New Jersey which David Rosenberg, Ed Harwood, and Marc Oshima founded in 2004. The company uses patented aeroponic technology for indoor agriculture with minimal environmental effect.
- Green Sense Farms’ aim is to conserve energy, reduce waste, and recycle resources. Their first farm was in Portage, IA, and Green Sense Farms has built another in Shenzhen, China.
- Plenty is a Silicon Valley startup run by CEO Matt Barnard manages. Plenty has a 100,000 square foot vertical farming warehouse in Kent, WA, an indoor farm in the United Arab Emirates, and soon 300 more indoor farms in China.
- Bowery Farming mixes software, high-tech lights, and robotics to control how farm produce is grown. The company’s warehouse-turned-indoor vertical farm is only a few miles outside New York City.
Vertical Farming for a Sustainable Future
Many key cities around the globe have already tapped the methods of vertical farming and indoor agriculture. For instance, in Tokyo, Japan, Human Resource and Staffing Leader Pasona Group Inc. incorporated vertical farming into their office environment. In Sweden, an urban vertical farm is spearheaded by Plantagon International AB. The company aims to promote innovations that minimize the use of artificial lighting through efficient architecture.
Vertical farming is not a magic bullet, but it can aid in creating a more sustainable future. When space is such a premium, and you have nowhere left to grow, there is only one solution – reach for the sky.
For more on indoor agriculture, check out this interview with Lisa Merkle, co-founder of Box Greens.