The Economist Looks At Vertical Farming and Asks: Does It Stack Up?

oliver foster vertical farm image perspective

Oliver Foster's Vertical Farm

The Economist does a good summary of the strengths and weaknesses of vertical farming. They note that "The necessary technology already exists. The glasshouse industry has more than a century's experience of growing crops indoors in large quantities", and that "The technology of hydroponics allows almost any kind of plant to be grown in nutrient-rich water, from root crops like radishes and potatoes to fruit such as melons and even cereals like maize."

But does it make sense to go hi-rise?

oliver foster vertical farm image section

Oliver Foster Section: click on image to enlarge

There is no question that this kind of farming works, and can be useful in certain places, like Antarctica. The Economist describes it:

[Dr Giacomelli] and his colleagues have created the South Pole Food Growth Chamber, which has been in operation since 2004. This semi-automated hydroponic facility in Antarctica is used to provide each of the 65 staff of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station with at least one fresh salad a day during the winter months, when supply flights to the station are extremely limited. The chamber has a floor area of 22 square metres and produces a wide range of fruit and vegetables with little more than the occasional topping up of water and nutrients. It does, however, require artificial lighting because the station is without natural daylight for most of the winter.

oliver foster vertical farm image plan

Oliver Foster

In the end, the Economist points out that horizontal farming on rooftops may make a lot more sense. Also interesting is the hybrid, where agriculture is integrated into the skins of buildings.

This idea involves the integration of vertical farms into buildings and offices, with plants growing around the edges of the building, sandwiched between two glass layers and rotating on a conveyor. Shrouding buildings with plants solves the natural-light problem for agriculture, acts as a passive form of climate control for the buildings and makes for a nice view.

And in the end, being the Economist, they point out that it all comes down to economics.

Rooftop farming may not be able to compete with other suppliers in a global market unless people are prepared to pay a premium for fresh, local food, says Mr Head. And it is much less glamorous than the grand vision of crops being produced in soaring green towers of glass. But, for the time being, this more down-to-earth approach is much more realistic than the sci-fi dream of fields in the sky.

Read the Economist here and see a series of videos here at Three views of a Vertical Farm
More on Vertical Farms
The Vertical Farm: Does It Make Sense? (Book Review)
The Vertical Farm: Does It Make Sense? (Book Review)
George Monbiot Girds For Bruising Battle Against The Madness of Vertical Farms
Green Roofs Are So Last Year; Rooftop Farms Are The Growing Thing
Vertical Farms Aren't Going to Solve Our Food Problems
Do Vertical Farms Make Sense?
The Future of Farming: Vertical or Horizontal?

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