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Vertical Farming On The Rise

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Vertical farming has been on people’s tongues at dinner parties, lunches, casual conversations, and heated debates for some time now. However, it’s still in its infancy, with a lot to discover, and a lot to decide. But what is all the hype about and does it stack up? Pun intended.

One of the main battle cries for vertical farming is that the planet is running out of food for our rising population. By 2050, it’s estimated that we as a species, will be near the 10 billion strong mark. Adding to the challenge, due to increasing urbanization, we’re also losing arable land every day. Vertical farming with its vertical physical layout and use of artificial lights, is for some, the answer. The concept is designed to thrive in the world’s crowded cities to isolated islands, due to its structure, location, and upkeep needs. For these situations, vertical farming design seems to offer the perfect fit.

Vertical farming produces food in vertically stacked layers, which can be incorporated into other structures such as skyscrapers. Using indoor farming techniques, everything is controlled artificially. Temperature, light, and humidity are all regulated through technology, creating ideal conditions, in this way maximizing food production within a limited area. Because vertical farming is done in a controlled indoor environment; just like a greenhouse, year-round production is possible, besides using an estimated 80% less water than traditional farming. Due to its controlled environment, vertical farming can do without pesticides, being ideal for organic crops, and works within an urban setting instead of disturbing existing natural landscapes.

It also provides for interesting architecture and design, both from an aesthetic angle and a challenge one. Cities around the world are becoming larger and as they continue to grow, greater swaths of the population are seeing their distance to food sources increase, which means less freshness and less nutritional quality. In Bermuda, this has always been the case, encircled by ocean and 665 miles away from the nearest country, this being the United States. Bermuda has a very high cost of living with quality food being very expensive due to the incorporated transportation costs these entail. Products with an abundance of high sugar and starch can seem attractive, with lower prices at stores, long shelf lives, and terrible effects for our health to go with it, contributing to rising levels of diabetes and obesity. Vertical farms can help abate the problem somewhat, by fitting into the urban landscape fresh produce, avoiding higher transport costs and excessive handling. They can also add variety to our diet, which is crucial for a healthy organism.

Vertical farming can also help protect our planet, because it doesn’t disrupt the natural landscape, which many times needs to be cleared to make way for single crop farming, contributing to soil degradation. Instead, the vertical farm can be incorporated into existing buildings in the city, which are no longer in use. Industries come and go, such as the auto industry in Detroit or the shoe industry in St. Louis. Buildings that once made sense are now abandoned or in disarray, changing neighborhoods and economies for the worse. A great use for them would be vertical farming, not only because of the existing infrastructure already in place, but also due to typically low-priced real estate, which is a key point if vertical farming is to be commercially viable. One very interesting example is that of the London tunnels that were used as shelters during World War II and have now been transformed into vertical farms by Growing Underground.

Vertical farming is especially influential in the hospitality industry, as a solution for fulfilling the farm-to-table trend. Take the example of the Ritz-Carlton of Naples, Florida, in the U.S. which has an on-site indoor hydroponic vertical farm, set inside a repurposed shipping container. Named “The Grow House”, it produces a large part of the greens served at its restaurant. Bermuda as we well know, has no shortage of shipping containers; vertical farming could be great second life for them when these retire from their life at sea. In fact, Miles Market has already invested in their own shipping container for this specific use.

It’s not only businesses and cities, which can harvest the benefits of vertical farming. It is especially well-suited for any small and isolated nation such as Bermuda, which any given day has only about 10 days of food reserves for the whole country. All it takes is a late shipment or a storm for shortages to be felt, in addition to the already daily high cost of food. Vertical farms, because of their controlled environment, could supply a wide variety of produce to nations heavily dependent on imports for their daily food needs, besides contributing to stable and controlled prices.

Vertical farms can be incorporated into all sorts of urban buildings. According to Colin Campbell, architect and Regional Director of OBMI Bermuda, supermarkets with their expansive square footage and existing vertical structures would be ideally suited for a double life as farms. As photovoltaic technologies become cheaper and more efficient, along with LEDS, vertical farms are becoming more cost-efficient to implement.

When it comes down to it, vertical farming might not be the cure-all for the world’s food needs, the well-being of the planet, or our health troubles, but it certainly seems to be part of the solution and very interesting for isolated countries such as Bermuda. Vertical farming is also very interesting design-wise, providing all sorts of possibilities and opportunities for creativity. With this said, it’s exciting to see as the industry evolves, what will come next.