A major factor contributing to global climate change is the emissions from transporting food from where it's grown to far way where people eat it. The agriculture industry is also the largest consumer of water worldwide. Not only is the practice not sustainable, but trends suggest that by 2050, 2.5 billion more people will live on the planet, 80 percent of them will live in cities and 70 percent more food will be required.
That means that not only will more people need more food, but the vast majority will be living away from rural agricultural centers. The current agricultural model of large food miles just won't cut it.
But what if we could grow our food within or just outside our cities? Obviously, there isn't space in cities for large sprawling farms, but a new idea being led by LED manufacturers proves that food can be grown vertically in warehouses using the bulbs requiring less water and very little energy.
Philips, the large electronics company that has been at the forefront of LED technology over the past few years, has been partnering with indoor farming company Green Sense Farms on a city farming project that has demonstrated the ability for LED bulbs to replace greenhouse growing lights and typical horizontal, resource-heavy farming practices. The LED bulbs not only require less electricity, but they're far cooler meaning that less water is needed and that plants can be stacked closer to each other.
In the prototype city farm they've established in a warehouse outside of Chicago, the partners have fit fourteen 25-foot-tall racks that stretch from end-to-end of the 30,000 square-foot-space. That amounts to 1 million cubic feet of growing space that produces about 4,000 cases of produce a week.
Right now, Philips is mainly focused on green leafy vegetables, but they're experimenting with the different light "recipes" that are best suited for growing kale versus romaine, arugula versus herbs.
“Plants really like red and blue light,” said Gus van der Feltz, director of city farming at Philips. “With an indoor farm, you can try to establish the best possible growth conditions for each crop, changing the color of the light and the intensity.”
The experimentation is letting the partners see how beneficial this type of farming can be.
“Through our joint R&D efforts with Philips, we continue to innovate and perfect LED lighting for indoor growing systems that can maximize plant photosynthesis, while minimizing energy use for the most delicious and nutritious vegetables grown in a sustainable manner,” said Robert Colangelo, founding farmer/president of Green Sense Farms. “By growing our crops vertically, we are able to pack more plants per acre than we would have in a field farm, which results in more harvests per year. We produce little waste, no agricultural runoff and minimal greenhouse gasses because the food is grown where it is consumed.”
The price of LED bulbs has also fallen in recent years where this type of application is now cost effective. As they perfect the process, they'd like to move on to more nutrient-dense plants like grains and root vegetables to show how this type of indoor farming could actually feed the world.