Vertical Farming—Why it’s a good idea.

Image of a 'hive world' from Warhammer 40K

Bees like living in hives. They build them. I don't think we'd like it as much.

You may have heard that there are a lot of people on Earth right now: almost seven billion. By 2025, some expect there to be eight billion, and by 2050, it’s said that there will be well over 9,000,000,000 people. And 70% of them will live in urban areas.

So here’s an interesting point. Good farming takes a lot of horizontal space, so it’s traditionally been done well outside of cities. But with urban sprawls getting bigger and bigger, the farms are getting pushed further and further from their desination. And if you want a fruit when it’s not in season, it’s probably coming from another country. This model for farming has some really big holes:

  • Lots of fuel is consumed for transportation
  • A lot of the product goes to waste as it goes bad or is damaged
  • If it’s being transported from very far away, the fruit is picked when it’s not ripe, and ripens in a truck. Nutrition is lost.

Doesn’t take an expert to know that minimizing waste is a good idea. And remember the sheer volume of waste we’re talking about here. Transporting enough food to feed 6.3 billion people (70% of 9,000,000,000) consumes a lot of fuel. And even if the proportion of damaged or otherwise wasted goods is low—even just 1%—that’s 1% of about 2000 pounds of food (what you eat in a year) times 6.3 billion.

That comes out to be 126,000,000,000 pounds of wasted food—exclusively from transporting 6.3 billion peoples’ worth of food from farms of urban areas.

Right now, farmland takes up about 38% of the total landmass of Earth. That’s including places which can’t really be farmed at all, like every desert on Earth, or the entire continent of Antarctica. Unless you want to farm cacti or penguins. Both of which might sound cool, but I hear cactus is rubbery and penguins make bad barbeque. Plus they’re endangered. So no.

But how can we solve both problems at once? That is, what would be a good way to save real estate while simultaneously eliminating the problems which arise from transporting food from farms to urban areas? Yeah. Easy: build farms in cities, vertically. It’s pretty common knowledge that if you can’t build out, you build up. So build up where there are a lot of people in a lot of tall buildings—where the food needs to end up anyways. This is called vertical farming.

There are a lot of other witty buzzwords for this. Farmscrapers, the future of greengineering. Greengineering doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry so it can’t be real—that’s my logic at least.  But it makes sense: combining the scientific art of elegant problem solving with the additional motive of doing so in an environmentally-friendly way. Cool.

So what are the benefits of vertical farming?

  • Saved fuel from reduced goods-transportation cost; I like to imagine having a produce store on the bottom floor of one of these ‘farmscrapers.’
  • Reduced loss of goods because of reduced transportation.
  • Ability to locally grow any food product any time of the year, thanks to hydroponics and thanks to controlled environments.
  • Better nutrition due to on-the-vine ripening and increased freshness
  • Once it catches on, reduced cost due to all of the above
  • Better quality because nothing has to be frozen
  • No weather-related crop failures. Ever. Unless there’s an earthquake. But then we’ve got bigger fish to fry. Like weather-related building failures and lack-of-bridges.
  • Possibly increased air-quality for the city it’s in; it’s a giant building full of plants, which consume CO2 and produce Oxygen.
  • Save the rainforests. (But not the whales. Yet.)

For the lowdown on vertical farming, check out this article by Encyclopedia of Earth.

I’ll leave the conclusion up to you, because it’s obvious what my opinion is. Seems like the only logical solution. It might work better if we genetically modify our food to be giant-sized. I’d eat oranges as big as watermelons grown in a skyscraper in a tank of water to save the environment. Any day.

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One thought on “Vertical Farming—Why it’s a good idea.

  1. OK, I almost buy it, but isn’t the physics and chemistry of farming about converting the sun’s energy into food energy? There’s only so much solar energy per square mile of earth surface. If the farming goes vertical can it capture more energy per square mile or does vertical farming just end up casting shadows so only the southern-most farms in a particular area get their full share of solar energy?

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