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Friday, May 3, 2019

baner

baner

Fast forward to vertical farming

Have you heard of vertical gardening or vertical farming? Space for gardening, farming and growing food crops is increasingly encroaching upon natural eco-systems as urban centres become more dense and sprawling. Some countries have very little productive area for agriculture due to water and climatic restrictions. Scientists are realising the costs of intensive farming on our environment that include polluted water and eco-systems, soil infertility, reduced crop resistance to disease and pests and less nutritional value from food itself. Let’s explore a little more about vertical farming and what it is all about.

According to Dr. Dickson Despommier, who is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on vertical farms, our children and grandchildrens’ generations could be soon facing a worldwide food crisis if changes are not made to the current manner in which we farm and grow our food. By 2060 he says that 3 billion people could be facing starvation due to the declining global food supply. In his book, The Vertical Farm, Despommier, rallies the cause for the use of vertical farms, which could enable every country in the world, regardless of climate or agricultural land, to be able to grow food in an efficient and sustainable manner. Imagine towering skycrapers, designed and built solely for the production of food crops. Glass pyramids and towers that allow as much sunlight in as possible are then intended as complete ecosystems, capable of producing even fish and poultry while reusing internal waste, these amazing structures could be built in every large town or city, providing all the fresh food their inhabitants need, cutting out the import and export of foodstuffs across the globe, dramatically making food a more sustainable enterprise.

“Beyond creating a sustainable and local source for food, Despommier envisions a healing process for today’s horizontal farms. Native plant life will be replaced and allowed to grow wild and replenish the depleted soil for future generations.”

Despommier believes that current technology and the relatively new methods of greenhouse food production as well as vertical gardening, made famous by the green wall pioneer, Patrick Blanc, could and should be fused in an up-scaled design, where food can be grown year-round, despite the season, in an ecologically sound manner, where organic principles are applied together with cutting edge technology that will deliver food in a cheaper and more sustainable manner.

Vertical farming (VF) benefits:
  • Year-round crop production; 1 indoor acre is equivalent to 4-6 outdoor acres or more, depending upon the crop (e.g., strawberries: 1 indoor acre = 30 outdoor acres)
  • No weather-related crop failures due to droughts, floods, pests
  • All VF food is grown organically: no herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers
  • VF virtually eliminates agricultural runoff by recycling black water
  • VF returns farmland to nature, restoring ecosystem functions and services
  • VF greatly reduces the incidence of many infectious diseases that are acquired at the agricultural interface
  • VF converts black and grey water into potable water by collecting the water of evapotranspiration
  • VF adds energy back to the grid via methane generation from composting non-edible parts of plants and animals
  • VF dramatically reduces fossil fuel use (no tractors, ploughs, shipping.)
  • VF converts abandoned urban properties into food production centres
  • VF creates sustainable environments for urban centres
  • VF creates new employment opportunities
  • We cannot go to the moon, Mars, or beyond without first learning to farm indoors on earth
  • VF may prove to be useful for integrating into refugee camps
  • VF could reduce the incidence of armed conflict over natural resources, such as water and land for agriculture

Theoretically even meat and fish could be farmed in towering skyscrapers

 

Vertical farming: the fly in the ointment

The big snag in this utopian dream is that sadly there is just not enough sunlight available in these skyscraper designs to allow food to be grown efficiently to the high standards required. Hence farms are horizontal and make use of the most amount of sunlight for each plant. Artificial light would be the only way these growing towers could achieve their intended potential, but sadly the cost of generating this light would outweigh the other energy savings made by the building. “Thanet Earth, a 90-hectare facility which opened in Kent in 2008 and is the largest such site in Britain—it provides 15% of the British salad crop—requires its own mini power-station to provide its plants with light for 15 hours a day during the winter months. This rather undermines the notion that vertical farming will save energy and cut carbon emissions, notes Mr Head, who has carried out several studies of the idea. Vertical farming will need cheap, renewable energy if it is to work, he says.”

A vision of the future? Watch this space

Vertical farming: where to from here?

The immediate opportunity may simply be to take advantage of the space available on urban rooftops, says Mr Head, and to pursue urban farming rather than vertical farming. Rooftop gardening is already a common sight in cities and towns around the world, especially in Europe. South Africa has yet to catch on in a big way, as currently the costs of converting roofs into strong enough structures to support the large weight of the needed soil, outweighs the savings of the food costs. Most of the lightweight materials needed for irrigation and for making the soil as light as possible are still rather expensive and make buying a packet of salad at Woolies rather cheaper. But hopefully this will change in time and soon we may even see supermarkets with their own roof gardens or vertical farms, farming on the roof, where you can buy organic, just-picked food straight from your favourite store.

Currently, the vertical farm is more a theoretical idea with very few in reality around the world, but if properly designed, executed and maintained, and with more thought given to the issue of increasing the natural light needed and their energy requirements, then we may just see these incredible structures in our future soon.

Check out these amazing designs that have been done for vertical farming by architects and engineers, horticulturists and farmers around the world.

 

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