A vertical farm in South Korea, with various crops at various stages of production. The opportunities, and the challenges are both being researched in depth by a lot of different people and organizations. It remains to be seen if this approach can become a practical, profitable approach to high density food production. Image courtesy of an English language article about vertical and urban farms in Seoul, South Korea.
For most hydroponic methods, either I have direct experience or I can refer to others’ experience, to provide some helpful hints for aspiring growers. In the case of vertical farming, as we’ve already seen, a lot of this approach is yet to be discovered. That is both an advantage and a drawback. For those folks who want all the trails already blazed for them, there isn’t nearly as much information about vertical farming as for other approaches. On the flip side, this approach is new and wide open and waiting to be explored. For those growers who enjoy experimenting, that situation is akin to a blank canvas awaiting the painter’s brush. This approach offers great promise, and I very much encourage growers to explore vertical farming and see what they can do with it. Yes there will be drawbacks, but there will also be exciting discoveries. All I ask is that you share whatever you learn. Contact Us if you wish, or blog on your own, or open your operation to tours; whatever it takes. If this approach is ever to reach the potential its fans have been heralding, that exploration can’t start soon enough.
Here are some additional sources of information for those who wish to learn more about vertical farming. I have included a mix of scholarly articles, industry reports, academic summaries and general purpose websites. I have also intentionally included publications from around the world, since vertical farming is being developed most intensively in high-density urban areas with food source challenges, and/or those countries which have challenges supplying their own food. This mix will hopefully give you, dear reader, a great deal of direction for your own vertical farming ambitions.
Our first article was written by Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA), an American nonprofit which gathers and shares information about a wide variety of agricultural techniques, methods, markets, and productivity. This organization’s reports are often written by farmers, for farmers, and their publications are widely respected as being well-grounded in real-world conditions. This particular paper looks at the promises and challenges faced by commercial-scale vertical farming operations in the United States. The report includes additional resources along with a list of vertical farming operations, which were in business as of the report’s publication date of January 2016. The report can be accessed and downloaded here: https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/download.php?id=512
This article published by scientists at the Universiti Putra, Malaysia and University of Chalous, Iran, surveys the various technologies currently in use for vertical farming systems around the world. It also examines the integration of agriculture and architecture via vertical farming methods. The study covers a period of time from 2009 to 2016. It can be accessed here:
This next paper was written by one of the companies which offers data gathering and management for agricultural operations, including vertical farming systems. It surveyed American vertical farming systems, in a variety of locations (urban vs suburban vs rural), in a variety of environments (fully enclosed buildings, greenhouses, open air, etc), and sizes (farms smaller or larger than 1,500sqft under cover). All the operations surveyed were in business as of 2017. The study looked at a variety of crops, growing systems, and markets. Vertical farming was included in the study as a distinct category but other growing systems were also considered. The paper considered the current production, as well as both the advantages and drawbacks of each system. That paper is available here: https://www.agrilyst.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/stateofindoorfarming-report-2017.pdf
This short article is about a small vertical farming operation which was built in a subterranean bomb shelter beneath London’s busy streets. The article provides some detail of the operation, along with the various advantages of its location and the challenges it faces. It is the only article I’ve been able to find (so far) about subterranean hydroponic operations. The article was written in mid 2016; it is available here: https://www.acs.org/content/dam/acsorg/education/resources/highschool/chemmatters/issues/2016-2017/October%202016/chemmatters-oct2016-vertical-farming.pdf
This short English-language article is from the German website Spiegel.de, and offers a mix of what’s being done, what could be done and what would need to be done, regarding vertical farming in urban environments. The article looks at an experimental station in Suwon South Korea, where vertical farming techniques are being tested for potential use in larger applications. The article also looks at other vertical farming operations in other locations, in terms of their performance as well as their challenges. One cautionary note from the Suwon operation is that while vertical farming can in fact produce extraordinary amounts of food in a small space, the amount of power required to produce that food can make many operations unfeasible. Note: the Spiegel website will prompt you to turn off any ad-blocking add-ons your browser may have before granting access to the article. Other than that requirement, access to the article is free. It can be accessed here: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/vertical-farming-can-urban-agriculture-feed-a-hungry-world-a-775754.html
We’ve covered a lot of ground in our discussions about vertical farming. We will be watching this approach very carefully in the coming years to see if it reaches full potential, and how it solves the challenges we’ve touched on here. Here’s hoping that a lot of very creative, very dedicated people get involved to address the latter, and achieve the former.