As population continues to exponentially grow, and the expansion of the urban environment slowly takes over, producing the amount of food and sustenance to feed everyone will become more and more of a problem. By 2050, it is estimated that our earth will be populated with 3 billion more people than today, 80% of which will be living in an urban environment. Will there be enough farmland to feed all these people? Will transporting all the food to cities be efficient? Will adding farmland to our earth actually damage the land? These questions are all up for debate, but an interesting solution has popped up: vertical farming.
Imagine walking in New York City and seeing a large, mostly glass-walled skyscraper. No, you won’t find overpriced semi-quality clothing, a flood of people, or giant ferris wheels (like the one in the Toys R Us). Instead, each floor will be growing a specific farm product, such as tomatoes, spinach, carrots, etc. This building would probably provide food to a large portion of the NYC population.
Vertical farming is the cultivation of farm products in a skyscraper greenhouse. Benefits of this farming system include:
More Crops and More Food
By producing farm goods in a controlled environment shut from the outside world, vertical farming eliminates environmental obstacles. Vertical farming can produce crops all year round, tripling or quadrupling the output of specific crops if they were produced in a traditional farm. In the case of strawberries, vertical farming can produce more than 30 times the output than traditional farming can. Also, because the vertical farm will be enclosed from the outside world, there will be no need to worry about weather-related damages. Floods and droughts can destroy and entire farm and prevent future farming. Infestations, insects, and swarms of birds can also be a large obstacle in traditional farming. Vertical farming will eliminate all this. In addition, because the skyscraper will probably be right next to the population it feeds, transporting the food will be incredibly easy and fast. Food won’t spoil during transportation, and will be fresher for the consumer. These benefits will dramatically increase the quality and quantity of crops for people to consume.
You’ll be Healthier
Because vertical farming will prevent insects or other infestations, the use of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides will not be needed. People won’t need to debate whether pesticides will harm them because they won’t be used at all for the crops. In addition, vertical farming will prevent infectious diseases from being distributed from a single farm. For example, schistosome is a flatworm parasite that resides in the bellies of snails. They are the second most socioeconomically damaging parasite after malaria, and can be easily infective toward humans, especially through eating the wrong foods form traditional farms. Vertical farming will be able to test the crops produced for any infectious diseases. In fact, there won’t be a single snail in any of these farms. In addition, because “whole” and “organic” foods are relatively more expensive than other foods, producing these foods in mass will lower the cost of buying them. Therefore, more people will buy these foods and stay healthier.
Can Produce Energy
Because so many crops are grown in such a small space, the creation and collection of biogas would be incredibly easy. Methane, a major component of biogas waste from plants, can be burned to generate electricity which would power a small portion of the building itself.
Although there are many benefits to vertical farming, there are also potential drawbacks. A major problem is whether building and maintaining a vertical farm is profitable. Yes, the farm would be a great solution to many problems, but if its owners don’t earn money, they won’t run it anymore. In addition, by building vertical farms, many farmers, transportation workers, farm equipment companies, etc. will be hurt. People will lose their jobs and the effect on the economy may be too great. Powering a vertical farm is another issue. Although the farm could use some sunlight, it will mainly use artificial lights. It will also require complicated machines to work 24-7 to ensure the crops receive the nutrients, water, and light to grow. Power costs will be another issue when talking about the profitability of vertical farms. Finally, greenhouses produce more greenhouse gases than farms. Although vertical farming sounds like it would help the environment, it may in fact add to the pollution problem instead.
Vertical farming is an interesting and relatively new solution to a growing problem. Look at these websites for more information regarding the benefits and drawbacks of vertical farming, or just to learn more:
Watch a Tedx Talk about Vertical Farming