Image credit: Valcent
Vertical farms always create some debate here at TreeHugger - from saline vertical farming in Dubai to cutting-edge vertical farm greenhouses in California - there are those who see vertical farming as the logical next step in feeding the world with minimum resources and maximum output. And then there are those who think many vertical farm plans are pie-in-the-sky. Paignton Zoo in the UK is clearly lining up in the former category, creating an experimental vertical hydroponic farm. The chimps will never have eaten so well.The vertical farm has been created by Valcent Products as part of their VertiCrop product line. The farm will be growing red chard, mizuna, mixed leaves, and a variety of herbs as well as edible flowers and fodder crops such as wheat grass and barley. Currently the farm imports a wide variety of veggies for their animal feed, so this should provide a local, sustainable alternative for the zoo's residents.
According to the company's materials, the system requires just 5% of the water for field crops, produces 20 times the yield per acre, and can be built almost anywhere.
The system operates on a conveyor system, with automated loading of plant trays for harvesting and replanting. The whole set up has been designed for minimum maintenance, with computerized controls to regulate irrigation and water supply and the environment within the polytunnel. Valcent claim the farm will require one staff member working approximately two hours a day to keep it running, and could cut the zoo's feed bill by as much as £100,000 (US$165,000)!
Valcent are clearly hoping this will be the first of many such systems, and claim that over fifty potential commercial customers for VertiCropTM will visit the Paignton site to see the system in operation. Paignton Zoo are carefully recording data and performance of the farm to feedback for further product development.