What Is Vertical Farming?

Vertical farming is an agricultural technique involving large-scale, stacked, indoor agriculture in urban areas. While many people fantasize about the construction of towering “farmscrapers” spiking up in the center of our cities’ financial districts, economic factors such as high real-estate, construction, energy, and employment costs make vertical farming more practical in underutilized or vacant commercial structures in suburban areas on the outskirts of our major cities. This is also our vision.

Vertical Farming Advantages

Vertical farming offers the following capabilities and advantages:

  • Year-round crop production. One indoor acre produces exponentially more fruit, vegetables, and herbs than an outdoor acre, depending upon the crop. Vertical farmers can produce thirty times as many strawberries in a vertical farm than they can by growing on a conventional outdoor farm.
  • Protection from drought, flood, heat waves, pests, and pathogen contamination
  • Safety. There is no need for herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers.
  • Sustainability. No topsoil is lost in a vertical farm, and vertical farms use 90 percent less water than conventional farms.
  • Elimination of agricultural water runoff, which can contaminate water supplies or choke our streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans with nitrates
  • Restoration solutions. Farmland can be restored to the natural ecosystems that existed before it was tilled under.
  • Reduction of infectious diseases caused by the large number of human touchpoints at each agricultural interface
  • Recycling black and gray water into potable water through water collection and evapotranspiration
  • Energy generation. Not only can the energy needed to run a vertical farm operation be generated by solar panels and wind turbines, but the methane gas generated by composting non-edible parts of plants grown in vertical farms can also be used to generate power.
  • Slashed fossil fuel use. Vertical farms eliminate the need for tractors, plows, and long-distance trucks.
  • Conversion of underutilized and abandoned urban properties into food production centers
  • Increased food security and the creation of food oases in food deserts
  • New skilled-employment opportunities

Social Impact

It is not hard to imagine how vertical farming can support our evolution into a more peaceful, just, and sustainable society. Vertical farms build community, reduce conflict, and increase independence by eliminating contention for food, water, and land resources. Modular vertical farms can be quickly and easily deployed to underdeveloped tropical and subtropical regions of the planet to help improve the quality of life and financial health of their inhabitants. Vertical farms can be installed in refugee camps. In the not-too-distant future, vertical farms may make their way to even-farther-away lands, such as the moon or Mars. Are we witnessing the dawning of the Age of Asparagus? It’s quite possible.

The History of Vertical Farming

Gaining efficiency by the simple act of stacking is nothing new, even for farming. The fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, were stacked gardens. The term “vertical farming” was coined by author Gilbert Ellis Bailey in his 1915 book Vertical Farming. While Bailey envisioned cultivating crops in tunnels underground, the term is most frequently used today to describe layered farming above ground.

Architect Ken Yeang designed the mixed-used skyscraper, with plants cultivated within open-air, mixed-use skyscrapers for personal or community use, not commercial production.

Ecologist Dickson Despommier took the concept further, and he has proposed cultivating plant and animal life within skyscrapers as not only a means of feeding people in urban areas, but as the solution to the health and environmental problems our current outdoor food supply chain has created. Despommier believes that our lands have become too toxic for natural agricultural production.