Picture farming: blue skies, open countryside, rows of green extending to the horizon. For thousands of years, farming has always looked like this. But the growing popularity of vertical farming could be turning this traditional image on its head.
AeroFarms: a vertical farm in New Jersey
As its name suggests, vertical farming is traditional farming, but put indoors and made vertical. Plants are grown indoors on many stacked tray-like structures, often under electric lighting. In an age when growing populations are putting increasing pressure on traditional farms, vertical farming has emerged in the spotlight as an agent of future food security and sustainability.
According to the USDA, vertical farming could increase food production and expand agricultural operations to meet the demand of the world’s growing population. Because it is usually done indoors, vertical farming allows plants to be grown under controlled lighting, temperature, and nutrient levels without weather and pest disruptions. Under these optimal conditions, crop yield is maximized over small land area. Vertical farming’s controlled conditions also allow crops to be grown anywhere, mitigating the threat pests and climate change pose to traditional agriculture.
Vertical farming does more than help mitigate the effects of climate change; it also combats climate change. Vertical farming can produce greens close to urban populations, reducing farm-to-table distance and thus reducing transportation costs and emissions. By growing vertically instead of in traditional horizontal rows, vertical farming saves space—a critical advantage when land is often cleared to make room for agriculture. Vertical farming is also frequently paired with hydroponics, a practice in which plants are grown without soil. Plants are grown directly in nutrient-rich water, which is circulated throughout the vertical farm. With hydroponics, farmers drastically reduce their water use, with some farms reporting a 98% cut in water usage, as compared to traditional soil-based farming.
Vertical farming may change the image of agriculture for us and for future generations to come. To learn more about the future of our food, check out Sustainable Contra Costa’s Green Sofa Cinema Series virtual event, featuring a discussion with vertical farming expert Cindy Gershon.
Register for the event (October 27th, 7pm–8pm): https://bit.ly/3hTSDcb