This could change the future of agriculture.
If you want to get a glimpse at the future of agriculture, look up. Vertical farms, a category of aeroponics agricultural systems (a method of growing crops in mid-air or in a misty environment), could be an innovative solution to worldwide hunger. Vertical farms are ideal for growing crops in urban places where space is limited. Right now, the world’s largest indoor vertical farm is being built in Newark, New Jersey.
AeroFarms, an aeroponics company, is spearheading the project, which was announced earlier this spring and just broke ground today. The 69,000-square-foot farm will cost $30 million, and is expected to open in stages. The first phase will be open by the end of 2015.When it’s completed, the facility will be capable of growing two million pounds of baby leafy greens and herbs annually, and will provide healthy greens to surrounding community, as well as ship crops to markets further away.
The farm will not need any soil, and will instead use LED lights and nutrient-rich mist to foster plant growth, making the whole process more efficient and less wasteful than traditional farming methods.
Dubai Will Be Home To the World’s Biggest Vertical Farm
Vertical farms—indoor facilities in which crops are grown in hydroponic systems stacked on top of each other—are ideal for all kinds of situations. Old, abandoned urban factories make for nice vertical farms. But they might be best suited for environments like the United Arab Emirates, where arable land is limited but sunshine, which can be used for clean energy, is nearly limitless.
Emirates Flight Catering and Crop One Holdings announced plans this week for what would be the world’s largest vertical farm, to be based in Dubai. The facility will span 130,000 square feet, which makes it nearly twice as large as the previous (planned) champion, based in Newark, New Jersey, just outside New York City.
Vertical farms have lots of advantages. Being indoors, they aren’t subject to seasons and can produce year-round. And being locked off from the outside world means that they typically use zero pesticides.
The downsides lie primarily in water and energy use. Most vertical farms use hydroponics or aeroponics, soil-free methods in which nutrients are dissolved in water and circulated into a plant’s bare roots. And with proper engineering, water can be easily conserved. In fact, Crop One says it will use 1/2500th the water of an equivalently sized soil operation. Energy is a little trickier, as the plants still require light. LEDs are fairly energy-efficient, compared with older lighting systems, but you need an awful lot of them.
One way to counteract the large energy footprint of vertical farms is to set up a clean energy source. Crop One told CNN that it will be using a mix of power grid energy and solar Dubai does not currently get very much of its energy from solar power but has announced ambitious plans to ramp up solar power in the next few years. Its target by 2050: 75 percent of Dubai’s energy will come from solar.
The Crop One facility will primarily grow greens, which do very well in systems like this and aims to harvest 6,000 pounds of greens per day. Those will be going, not surprisingly given its co-owners, to in-flight and airport lounge meals starting in December of 2019. Crop One has not announced plans to grow anything besides leafy greens, but more variety is certainly possible squash, peppers, and some fruits (like strawberries) have proven able to handle vertical farming.
Newark Subsidizes A Crackpot Idea: Vertical Farming
It’s hard to be truly skeptical of a new idea these days, especially one coming from an American city. The reemergence of creative talent in our nation’s urban centers have made them ground-zero for many ingenious schemes. In the last decade alone, we have seen everything from pop-up parks, to digital apps that revolutionize whole industries, to “smart grids” that improve public services, and constant technological innovation leaves us wondering what will come next. But sometimes, new ideas really do seem stupid, and I can’t help but think this about the latest urban fad: vertical farming.
For those unacquainted, this is when crops are grown from high-rise towers in big cities. The concept mirrors the rather laudable ‘urban farming’ trend, when crops are grown from rooftops or unused lots. But vertical farming, which is a theoretical concept pioneered by Columbia University microbiologist Dickson Despommier, takes this to a new level, speculating that mega-cities like New York and Tokyo will one day dedicate massive towers for food production. The concept has been sold as a way to create more farm capacity in a rapidly-populating world.
But the economics seem unworkable. Businesses or governments wishing to run vertical farms would first have to buy land in major cities, where real estate is sold at premiums. They would spend millions on the approval costs required for development. They would throw enormous sums—nowadays in the billions—to construct mega-towers. And then they would have to further address the challenge of growing food indoors, which requires sophisticated lighting, irrigation, and retention systems.
It would be difficult for vertical farmers to cover all these costs by selling a bunch of $2 cucumbers, especially when competing with traditional (or “horizontal”) farmers. There is a reason, after all, that farming occurs in rural areas: land there is abundant and cheap.
Not surprisingly, these factors have prevented any skyscraper farms from being built. There are some companies, like Chicago-based FarmedHere, that grow vegetables out of two- or three-story buildings and sell them to major retailers. About two-dozen of these farms exist in the U.S., and dozens more around the globe. But none have reported profits, and they are less like skyscrapers than glorified greenhouses.
These factors, however, have not prevented New Jersey’s government dreamers from subsidizing what hopes to be the world’s largest-producing vertical farm. As the New York Times noted on Tuesday, the city of Newark and the state of New Jersey, both heavily indebted, have provided $9 million in grants and tax credits to build one in the city’s Ironbound district. Further financing will come from the urban investment arm of Goldman Sachs. The farm will be built by the RBH Group on the site of a former steel plant, and operated by the company AeroFarms. Along with being viewed as a job-creation and neighborhood revitalization tool, the indoor facility will grow crops using LED bulbs and aeroponics. Perhaps in an ode to the smart set who embrace such ideas, the farm will grow two million pounds of arugula and kale.
The details of Newark’s project are a case study in the forbidding economics of vertical farming. The total cost will be $39 million, while the square footage dedicated to crop growth will be 46,000—or just over an acre. By comparison, an acre of farmland in Iowa averages under $8,000.
There are some advantages to vertical farming—crops are grown closer to consumers, thus reducing transportation costs, and more abundantly when in climate-controlled facilities. But do these benefits outweigh the exorbitantly greater costs? George Monbiot, environmental columnist for the Guardian, thinks not. He wrote a scathing editorial about all the ways that vertical farming is not just expensive, but unfeasible. It could threaten cities with unsightly smells and fungal infestations would require massive pumps, heating and cooling systems and requires substantial artificial lighting. Vertical farming advocates, he wrote, seem to expect “all usual rules of business, economics, physics, chemistry and biology to be suspended to make way for [their] idea.”
Others have noted that its environmental benefits are outweighed by the energy it uses, which is unsurprising given the energy required to build and maintain skyscrapers.
This doesn’t mean that technological advances can’t someday take vertical farming from a fringe into a mainstream idea. I’ll be curious to see in coming decades how private industry expands on the recent advances in indoor farming, and whether the concept can eventually achieve scale and go vertical. But it is irresponsible for the industry to be subsidized at this point by an actual city, no less a struggling one like Newark. The city has 9.8% unemployment, 29% poverty, high crime, crumbling infrastructure, and population levels that since 1930 have either declined or grown slowly. There have been various white elephant projects—from stadiums to Whole Foods—that similarly-struggling cities have subsidized to address these problems. But vertical farming represents an even higher plateau of bizarre taxpayer-funded speculation.
I am the owner of a media company called The Market Urbanism Report. It is meant to advance free-market policy ideas in cities. The Report features multiple articles…
The future of farming: Local, high-tech -- and indoors
From the lab to your inbox. Get the latest science stories from CNET every week.
"We're seeing more severe droughts than we have seen in the past," says Heather Cooley, director of research at the Pacific Institute, a California-based water research and policy group. "California just had a very severe drought that lasted for five years. . In South Africa, they were talking about Day Zero -- a day when they were going to run out of water, and people would have to go and queue up in line in order to get basic amounts for their needs."
The problem is being felt in Australia , Brazil -- all across the world. And Cooley says it's getting worse.
"The droughts will last longer they will expand over larger areas they will be drier," she says. "Without taking action, we're going to face more challenges around water, and it will mean a loss of human life."
The World’s Largest Vertical Farm Is Being Built In An Old Steel Mill
Across the Hudson and over Newark Bay, about 24km from Manhattan, a group of investors led by Goldman Sachs is financing the construction of what will become the largest indoor vertical farm in the world inside a former steel mill.
It will also serve as the headquarters for a New York company called AeroFarms, which sprang up about a decade ago in upstate New York. The company uses a method it calls “aeroponics“, a concept coined by a Cornell professor who is now a partner, which leaves the roots of plants bare or dangling in the open so that they can be sprayed with nutrients. The process cuts out soil and sun entirely, relying instead on LEDs and the constant circulation of air and nutrient mist to feed the plants. AeroFarms says the process results in better plants faster, and uses per cent less water” than normal farming.
The $US30 million deal to built AeroFarms’ giant vertical garden is part of a plan to redevelop a neighbourhood called Ironbound, in Newark, with a high unemployment rate and an industrial history that includes a superfund site. The building itself was, for decades, a steel mill — right now, it’s home to a company that supplies those wooden shipping pallets you often see stacked on the street outside of grocery stores and bodegas. In short, it’s an industrial space that the City of Newark, along with investors like Goldman Sachs — which operates its own mirror office in Jersey City — are interested in turning into a hub for clean tech.
The farm won’t be up and running until 2016, but it’s a glimpse at how agricultural production is evolving in major cities — especially ones like New York and environs, which are extraordinarily sensitive to food scarcity. There are only so many entry points into the city, and most food on its way into New York passes through a single facility: The Hunts Point Food Distribution Center, in the Bronx, which the city describes as “not just critically important, [but] also vulnerable” to flooding and storms.
As a result, cities like New York and communities in New Jersey are looking to establish alternatives to their primary food supply chains — like, for example, vertical farms in nearby boroughs and states. Of course, projects like AeroFarms’ are vulnerable in their own way: The loss of power or water would be catastrophic for a system that relies on the constant circulation of a special nutrient mist and the rays of LED lights. And the company’s goal isn’t to feed the region in a disaster, but to showcase its technology and further research its systems.
It’s still interesting to see that the way fresh produce arrives in our cities is quickly changing — now, how about a floating farm archipelago in New York harbour?
World’s largest vertical farm can produce up to 2 million pounds of greens a year
New York startup Aerofarms has built the world’s largest vertical farm in Newark, New Jersey. A former steel factory was converted to house the 69,000 square foot farm.
250 different kinds of greens and herbs grow in plant beds stacked in 12 layers from floor to ceiling. The beds are lit with LED lights that mimic natural sunlight and sensors track the plants’ growth. Oxygen is circulated through mini-fans at the end of every plant bed. Seeds are poured onto a tray covered with a recyclable cloth made from recycled plastic bottles.
The vertical farm doesn’t require any soil, pesticides, or sunlight to grow crops. Aerofarms uses a method called "aeroponics," conceived by a Cornell professor who works with the company, that leaves plant roots exposed so they can be sprayed with a mist filled with nutrients. They claim to use 95% less water than traditional outdoor farming.
Vertical farms have grown more popular over the years as a way to solve food shortages while farming efficiently. More than 80% of land suitable for crops is already in use. Continued large-scale agriculture contributes to global deforestation, pollution, and climate change.
Thousands of vertical farms are operating mostly in countries with high population densities such as South Korea, Japan, China and the Netherlands.
Sky Greens, the world’s first commercial vertical farm, opened in Singapore in 2012. Japan is home to the second largest vertical farm, developed by General Electric (GE), that yields up to 10,000 heads of lettuce a day. They have expanded to Mongolia, where vegetables are often imported from Europe due to long winters that shorten the outdoor growing season.
There are some drawbacks of vertical farming, including a high electrical cost and risk of a power outage that could shut down the entire system.
The highly regulated nature of indoor vertical farming allows farmers to constantly improve the plant growing process and produce continuously huge harvests of locally grown vegetables. Plants that normally take more than a month to grow outside can have a 12 to 16 day crop cycle in the vertical farm.
The Newark, NJ location will have up to 30 harvests a year and produce almost 2 million pounds of lettuce when the facility reaches full capacity in 2016. The produce will be sold locally in New Jersey and New York.
A photo posted by @ckennylin on Sep 30, 2015 at 10:18am PDT
The company hopes to produce more locally grown vegetables while creating more green jobs in the process.
"Cities have a lot of mouths to feed. We have population growth, urbanization, and we need better ways to feed humanity that are sensitive to the environment," AeroFarms' CEO and founder David Rosenberg told Tech Insider.
Being able to construct “farm land” in urban areas could potentially alleviate some of the environmental impact of farming and global food shortages at the same time.
This Former Semiconductor Factory Is Now the World's Largest Indoor Farm, Producing 10K Heads of Lettuce Per Day
When we think about factories, and what we decry as "factory farms," we probably don't think very highly of them as being a key component in the future of agriculture, but if we can take what factories do best, such as use technology to build efficient production lines, and pair that with what nature does best, which is growing biomass from light and water and minerals, then growing food in plant factories starts to make a lot of sense.
Converting what were formerly industrial buildings into indoor farming operations, especially in urban areas and locations that aren't conducive to year-round outdoor food production, could be an excellent reuse of existing resources (the buildings themselves, the infrastructure that supports them, and their locations in or near cities) to help build a more sustainable food system. And this sort of operation can be done in a way that's both highly efficient and productive (PDF), in essence turning our ideas about industrial-scale factory farming on their heads.
In Miyagi Prefecture, in eastern Japan, plant physiologist Shigeharu Shimamura is showing how it can be done inside a former Sony Corporation semiconductor factory, using special LED fixtures and hydroponics to grow massive amounts of food in an incredibly space- and water-efficient manner.
This plant factory is now the world's largest indoor farm lit by LEDs, and the 25,000 square feet operation is producing 10,000 heads of lettuce per day. Per day. Every day.
That's a staggering amount of food, considering we're not talking about an enormous plot of land, and because of the high-tech methods used by this indoor farm, crops can be grown 2 1⁄2 times faster than outdoors, with just 1% of the water, and a loss rate of just 10% of the produce (which can be as much as 30-50% of the plant biomass in conventional operations).
Part of the reason that Mirai, Inc., is seeing such efficient plant growth is due to special LED fixtures developed by GE, which are 'tuned' to emit the optimal wavelengths of light for growth. These LED lights were designed to be slim enough that they could fit inside the closely spaced plant racks, while also standing up in the high humidity environment, allowing for uniform lighting to all of the plants. All told, there are 17,500 of these LED lights across 18 plant cultivation racks, which are then stacked up 16 levels high in this indoor farm.
The farm also uses technology to tightly control the humidity, temperature, carbon dioxide levels, and the irrigation in the growing stacks, which is another key to their success in drastically reducing the water required to grow the plants, while also supporting maximum growth rates. When coupled with the advanced LED lighting, the operation can make the most of both day and night cycles, producing the optimal conditions for indoor food production.
This plant factory could be a harbinger of a whole wave of new-school industrial agriculture, with the potential to add more food production near to where it will be consumed, and help boost at least one aspect of food systems in an efficient manner. And expansion is in the works, as Mirai and GE are said to be working on building more plant factories in places such as Hong Kong and Russia, about which Shimamura says "Finally, we are about to start the real agricultural industrialization," which will feed 10 billion people.
On their own, these indoor farms aren't going to feed everyone, and we'll continue to need many farmers and quite a bit of farmland in production growing food outdoors with traditional farming, but these types of high-tech plant factories may be a key part of the much bigger puzzle of effectively feeding a growing population with the optimal use of one of our most precious resources, water.
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AeroFarms initially licensed its technology, but then opted to develop its own facilities and grow vegetables on its own. It's a capital-intensive system that also requires significant software and sensors for growing different varieties of produce and managing the growing conditions. Still, AeroFarms has an ambitious plan to develop 25 such farms over the next five years.
"We really think of ourselves as the Apple of farming in that sense," Oshima said.
Oshima told DTN on a tour of the farm that AeroFarms was the brainchild of David Rosenberg, the chief executive officer, and Ed Harwood, a former Cornell University professor and now AeroFarms' chief science officer. Rosenberg and Harwood got into vertical farming partially to address issues regarding fresh water while trying to create better access to healthier food.
"David wanted to have an impact on water and he wanted to have an impact on agriculture," Oshima said. "This is how you have economy of scale and bring the farm to consumers."
AeroFarms has had a working farm of some type in Newark for more than five years, but got funding to move into the old brewery last year. The farm also developed an early relationship with the Newark School District to both buy leafy greens and teach students about its operations and agriculture. "It's cool. Here in Newark we teach sixth-graders about how to be a farmer," Oshima said.
A key focus is on how to eliminate waste and track all aspects of the business' environmental footprint. Harwood developed the growing system that used a patented cloth made from recycled plastic. The result is growing greens with 95% less water, zero pesticides and no soil erosion.
"There are a lot of benefits to what we're doing because we're growing indoors," Oshima said. "You are probably going to be pretty hard pressed to find a farm with a chief science officer or a microbiologist on staff," Oshima said.
AeroFarms only grows up to 250 different varieties of leafy greens such as lettuces, spinach and kale. Such greens can take 30-45 days to grow outside but can be ready to harvest under the LED lights in 12-16 days from the time a bed of seeds is put under light.
"We can grow anything, but we focus specifically on short-stem leafy greens and herbs," Oshima said. "It allows us to ensure a high level of quality and consistency and replicate that year-round."
AeroFarms employs 65 people now, but will be scaling up with another 44 employees in the next several months once the new facility is complete. "These are year-round jobs, not seasonal," Oshima said. "We're talking ideal conditions. It's 70 degrees year-round, no pesticides being used so it's not dangerous."
One area where AeroFarms is having difficulty is reaching the consumer who demands a product labeled as organic. While consumer perception about organics revolves around not using any synthetic chemicals to grow the crop, USDA hasn't defined any rules regarding whether different types of indoor vertical farming would qualify under its organic standards. Thus, AeroFarms doesn't have that USDA-certified organic seal.
"We actually think we're really good stewards of the environment and of the soil in particular because we're allowing it to heal. There's no carbon release because we're not tilling. There are a lot of benefits to what we are doing because we are growing indoors," Oshima said. "It's something USDA would say they have not kept up with technology. We think that's a dialogue and designation that's going to evolve."
A spokesman for USDA said the National Organic Program has had a task force meeting since last fall to look at how hydroponic and aquaponics practices might align with USDA organic regulations. The task force is expected to release its recommendations this fall.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie toured AeroFarms' facility last month with local media, highlighting the economic development and job creation of the farm and its operations.
Would you pay more for pesticide-free food grown indoors using LED lighting?
It’s such a hot idea that IKEA and world-famous chef David Chang have invested in it but will Australians embrace this new food trend?
Take a look inside the AeroFarms indoor vertical farm in the US city of Newark. Source: AeroFarms.
Take a look inside the AeroFarms indoor vertical farm in the US city of Newark. Source: AeroFarms.
One of the indoor vertical farms developed in US by AeroFarms. Picture: Casey Higgins/AeroFarms. Source:Supplied
It’s pesticide-free, tastes great and can be grown using 95 per cent less water than conventional farming but will Australians be willing to pay more for food grown indoors?
Homewares giant IKEA and world-renowned Momofuku chef David Chang are betting they will be they are among a number of investors putting money behind indoor vertical farming company AeroFarms.
The company has built the world’s largest vertical farm — in the US — and is now looking to Australia for possible expansion.
AeroFarms chief executive officer David Rosenberg is in Australia this week for the evokeAG conference, an event held by AgriFutures Australia in Melbourne to highlight new technologies, products and practices in the agriculture sector.
Mr Rosenberg told news.com.au the technology would enable places like Perth, where it’s difficult to buy locally grown food, to cultivate vegetables at scale.
“We can grow plants with a lot less water and arable land,” he said.
AeroFarms’ technology allows plants to be grown indoors without soil and using 95 per cent less water.
Its farm just outside New York City in Newark, New Jersey, has a grow room that is 30,000 square metres (about seven acres) and where salad greens are grown in stacks 12 layers high.
Through optimising temperature, water and nutrient delivery, Mr Rosenberg said they have been able to grow a plant in 14 days instead of the usual 30 days.
They can also turn over 25 crops a year because they are not restricted to growing in seasonal conditions, unlike conventional farmers who can generally only turn over their crops three times a year.
“What we can grow in an acre, they (conventional farmers) would need 130 acres,” Mr Rosenberg said.
The Newark farm covers an area the size of about four soccer fields so in order to produce a similar amount of crops, a conventional farm would need about 910 acres, or about 500 soccer fields.
Leafy greens being grown inside an indoor vertical farm in the US run by AeroFarms. Picture: Casey Higgins/AeroFarms. Source:Supplied
The future of farming? Picture: Casey Higgins/AeroFarms. Source:Supplied
Instead of being exposed to the sun, LED lighting is used to help the plants grow. Fertilisers and soil are replaced by hydroponic and aeroponic techniques that allow plants to get nutrients by sitting their roots in water, or misting them with water rich in elements like zinc. Other essentials are also provided: carbon dioxide gas is dispensed from canisters.
“We give them the right spectrum of light so they are getting the same things,” Mr Rosenberg said. “We break down what the plants want and we give it to them.”
This focus on data analytics to give plants exactly the right conditions to grow also means the taste of the food can be tweaked.
While they are not organic, AeroFarms’ greens are pesticide-free and can compete on taste and texture.
The technology has generated a huge amount of interest with AeroFarms raising $40 million in funding last year from companies like IKEA as well as individuals like David Chang and even former CIA director and retired US General David Petraeus.
Korean-American chef David Chang has invested in AeroFarms. Source:News Limited
Mr Rosenberg said AeroFarms managed to perfect the process for leafy greens about a year ago but they were still developing the model for other vegetables.
Another big challenge was convincing people to pay a premium for these products as the process was very energy intensive and capital expenses were also higher.
“In the US we need a 20 per cent premium to make the economics work,” Mr Rosenberg said.
In Australia, he believes the costs would be similar although this depends on how big the facilities are. Large operations make it more feasible to use automation to run the farms 24 hours a day and make them more economically viable.
However, not everyone is convinced that using huge amounts of energy to create artificial sunlight and control the climate is the best idea.
The indoor vertical farming process. Picture: AeroFarms. Source:Supplied
Each layer has its own LED lighting. Picture: Casey Higgins/AeroFarms. Source:Supplied
“There are questions about the sustainability of growing crops using electricity,” CERES Fair Food program general manager Chris Ennis told news.com.au.
Experts have pointed out that lettuces grown in traditionally heated greenhouses in the UK need an estimated 250 kilowatts per hour of energy a year for every square metre of growing area. A vertical farm needs a staggering 3500kW/h a year.
Mr Ennis said it may not make sense for farms to use huge amounts of coal-fired power to grow vegetables.
“We are asking ourselves, does it add up for the amount of lettuce that you get? We are really struggling with that.”
AeroFarms’ indoor farm is very energy intensive. Picture: Casey Higgins/AeroFarms. Source:Supplied
CERES is a not-for-profit community park in Melbourne that has been selling produce grown from its indoor vertical farm for about three years. It has been stunningly successful.
Mr Ennis said the indoor garden only took up about 100 square metres or less, but generated as much income as the rest of their 10,000sq m market garden.
“It’s incredibly productive,” he said. “We grow sunflower sprouts, pea sprouts and radish sprouts and they’re all certified organic. We supply the CERES shop and health food shops all over Melbourne,” Mr Ennis said
However, CERES’s process is different to AeroFarms’ as it still uses soil and sunlight to grow its plants.
Artificial lights are used in an old shipping container where seeds are germinated but afterwards the plants are moved to a poly tunnel that lets light in. Even in the shipping container there are only lights on the roof, rather than above every layer of plants.
Mr Ennis said the beauty of indoor farms was that you could control every aspect of the growing conditions and it used less water but there were still questions around the energy efficiency of growing that way.
𠇍oes it make sense when we’ve got the sun?”, he said.
An indoor vertical garden located inside a poly tunnel at CERES in Melbourne. Source:Supplied
Vertical farming rising to meet food needs
Aloha, food fans! The population on this planet has more than tripled over the last seventy years, and is projected to reach 10 billion folks by 2050, of which 80 percent will be living in urban areas. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) projects that food production will have to increase by 70 percent over the same time frame to feed our world&rsquos population.
Traditional farms are being pushed farther out from centers where people live and buy food. Traditional field farming already consumes more than 80 percent of earth&rsquos arable (farmable) land, contributes 70 percent of the contamination to our fresh water, and consumes 70 percent of earth&rsquos fresh water, of which 50-80 percent is lost to evaporation and runoff.
Anybody interested in vertical farming? Compared with traditional field farms, vertical farms use 75-95 percent less water, produce between 10-390 times more crop yield per square footprint (you read that right), and can produce crops in half the time.
As an example, Singapore imports over 90 percent of its food. Sound familiar? One enterprising engineer there developed an elegantly simple low carbon hydraulically-driven method of rotating trays of plants vertically around an A-shaped tower, like a Ferris wheel. Jack Ng&rsquos design uses the energy equivalent of a 40-watt bulb per tower, and has won international recognition and awards.
In his inauguration speech after being sworn in for his second term this past December, our Governor Ige called for a sustainable and self-sufficient Hawaii &ldquo…whether we are talking about food or energy production.&rdquo Doubling local food production by 2030 is one of his administration&rsquos goals, and Hawaii was the first state in the nation to enact legislation setting a 100 percent renewable energy goal.
Hawaii&rsquos first indoor vertical farm was started in Kaka&lsquoako by Kerry Kakazu in 2014. His 800 sq.ft. MetroGrow Hawaii operation produces about 100 heads of lettuce a week and a couple dozen containers of microgreens for his clients, which include fifteen high-end restaurants, and medicinal plants for an herbology store. He recently renovated another 2,000sqft to expand his indoor vertical farming operation.
AeroFarms in Newark, NJ built their operation in a former paintball and laser tag arena, &ldquo…which boasts 30,000 square feet of growing space and some impressive spray paint work.&rdquo
Rather than sunlight, specialized LED lighting is used to grow the crops in stacks over thirty feet high. Instead of soil, the 250 kinds of greens are grown in reusable cloth made from recycled plastic, and use Ed Harwood&rsquos aeroponic technology where the roots are misted with water and nutrients.
AeroFarms states this method allows them to use 95percent less water than traditional field farms, and that their yield is 390 times more crops per square foot. AeroFarms recently began growing in their ninth facility – a former 70,000sqft steel mill – to become the world&rsquos largest indoor vertical farm.
Since 2009 the Paignton Zoo in the UK has used Verticrop&rsquos hydroponic vertical farming system to grow food for their animals.
Their trays are suspended around towers which rotate and move on overhead tracks in a closed loop conveyor system. The top trays get the maximum sunlight, where the lower trays are exposed to different angles of the sun when rotating. Energy efficient LED lights are on standby to supplement waning natural light when necessary.
Back to Singapore, the third most densely populated country in the world.
The trays of plants at Sky Greens&rsquo operation rotate vertically around each A-frame tower at 1mm per second, allowing all trays equal exposure to sun, with between four and ten revolutions per day depending on the tower heights.
This design allows for easier access to crops and harvesting than other vertical farming methods that I have found so far in my research.
All of these vertical farming methods are organic and use no pesticides or herbicides. They can reduce the &ldquofarm-to-fork&rdquo time to bring consumers fresher and more nutritious produce, and reduce the fossil fuel transportation costs. For more information, check out VerticalOnKauai.org.
Susan Oakley is a resident of Kapaa.
All of the information included in this article was provided from the vertical farming website provided. No independent investigation or research appears to have been done by TGI.
Are we to believe that this represents the future of farming on rural Kauai?
Now, the site, and the article, claim that the farming methods are organic, yet no mention is made of the nutrient source or nutrient composition. This idea appears to be an elaboration on hydroponics, which is NOT an organic way of cultivating food.
Really TGI? How about some answers to obvious questions…
Since TGI does not include links in their articles or letters to the editor, I created that website AFTER I wrote the article, so that the website contains the same information as the article, plus links to further information. This “interesting engineering” website lists thirteen types of vertical farming: https://interestingengineering.com/13-vertical-farming-innovations-that-could-revolutionize-agriculture
I could be mistaken, but my understanding of “organic” means that nutrients to plants are provided by plant- or animal-based fertilizer, not chemically concocted in agrochemical laboratories. I also liked this short YouTube interview where AeroFarms can tweak plants to make them them sweeter, crunchier, or more peppery, simply by differing stresses: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxRhVRHvcZk
I don’t claim to be an expert of any type – just fascinated by innovations when land can be so expensive, and these vertical farms can grow on any land – like in the desert – not just arable land.
Thank you, Susan
We should be looking at all types of agriculture for Kaua’i. We are a small island.
Nobody ever mentions the construction & maintenance costs or the environmental cost of producing the material used to build & operate these. The promoters of vertical gardening also have some odd beliefs about things like “arability” and “desert”. Yes you can construct a vegie tower in desert. But in the desert those will have to use serious air conditioning and dehumidifying half the year and supplemental heat 4 months a year. Those crops will have to be hauled long distances in refrigerated trucks to get to market.
The promoters of vertical gardening are selling the concept based on high end specialty crop production, under ideal conditions. That does nothing to improve the world’s food supply or stop loss of farmland to environmental degradation & “buildover”.
None of this is going to provide environmentally friendly food that is affordable by most consumers, especially anyone with low income. Remember the last time you didn’t make it to the farmers’ market and had to buy a shipped-in tomato at the grocery store? Remember how much it cost? A tomato from an industrial size vertical garden would probably be a tastier tomato, but it would cost even more.
Vertical gardens work very well in a back yard or tiny farm, provided you have enough water & sunlight. A few thousand years ago there was stacked / terraced gardening in the Middle East which was designed to maximize retention of water and nutrients that worked, too. But the current large scale vertical garden belongs with a somewhat older idea that geodesic domes were going to revolutionize homes, gardening etc. Look around outside or via Google Earth. See all the geodomes in cities & in the countryside? No? It was a grand idealistic concept that didn’t pan out. Large scale vertical gardening is just as realistic as the geodome revolution.
Call me old-fashioned, but I think geodesic domes would be a GREAT idea for vertical farming here on Kaua‘i. Imagine driving past King K Elementary and seeing vertical gardening in a dome growing food for the students’ lunches! Hawaiʻi is one of eight states (plus Washington DC) that have successfully implemented the national “Farm to School” strategies, and interest is growing all over the country:
• Of the 1,261 urban agriculture sites in Los Angeles county, 761 were school gardens, 382 were commercial operations, and 118 were community gardens.
• Princeton University partnered with Hopewell Elementary School in New Jersey to help them develop their vertical farm-to-cafeteria lunch program. Last year the elementary school was recognized with the 2018 Best of New Jersey Farm to School Award by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. The school also featured local farmers and chefs at its annual Farm to School Day, which showcased recipe demonstrations and taste tests.
“The kids are involved in everything from planting to maintaining, to measuring PH levels, to harvesting and consumption in the cafeteria,” says Principal David Friedrich. The farm is currently growing various types of lettuce, spinach, basil, cilantro, dill, bok choy, several varieties of strawberries and lunchbox peppers.
The vertical farm has become a center piece of the school’s plant-based curriculum that supports next gen science standards, says Helen Corveleyn, the school’s K-5 STEM facilitator.
“There are so many applications that fit in naturally, so it’s not creating a project for kids to do and look at it at one isolated time. It’s crossing over into all walks of science,” she says. Students learn about the engineering process, lighting and electromagnetic spectrum, human impact of food waste in addition to the obvious life science connections.