Want Farming Innovation? Think Up!

Sometimes, instead of focusing so much on the United States and climate change, I feel it’s best to look at the world’s advances and innovations. While perusing the internet for subjects (or “bites”, as we like to call them) on which to write about, a post from NPR’s food blog The Salt caught my eye: Sky Greens, a company in Singapore, just opened their first commercial vertical farm.

“What’s a vertical farm?” you might ask. It’s pretty simple: vertical farms (also called vertical greenhouses) are skyscrapers that house plants. There are many different designs for these farms, and Sky Greens’ farm is just one of them. Inside the Singapore tower, trays of bok choy and Chinese cabbages rotate around an A-frame, like a Ferris wheel for plants. This way, each plant receives an equal amount of sunshine. Since everything’s indoors, there’s no need to worry about pests or other environmental conditions such as storms destroying the crops. The tower even saves water by using a water recycling system.

However, there are some cons to vertical farming, The Salt says:

The limiting factor is light. The total food produced depends on the amount of light reaching plants. Although vertical farms can hold more plants, they still receive just about the same quantity of sunlight as horizontal greenhouses. “The plants have to share the existing light, and they just grow more slowly.” [Gene Giacomelli, a plant scientist at the University of Arizona] tells The Salt. “You can’t amplify the sun.” For American cities, like New York and Chicago, Giacomelli thinks putting plain-old greenhouses on rooftops could be just as efficient as vertical farms – and a lot easier to implement.

Giacomelli has a point. Rooftop gardens and greenhouses are steadily becoming more popular in cities like New York. In fact, photographer Charles de Vaivre recently published a book consisting of photos of rooftop gardens. Vertical farms require time and money to build, whereas rooftop greenhouses build on already available space. Another great idea is the concept of “living walls”: indoor or outdoor walls serve as trellises for plants, either for food or just for show. Parking garages and office buildings become beautiful, green works of art.

Rooftop and vertical farms, as well as more traditional ones, are gaining popularity as the local, farm-to-table movement gains traction. Buying local food minimizes transportation costs (thereby reducing oil usage), fortifies the soil of nutrients, and supports local communities. I think it’s fantastic that the world’s agriculture industry is embracing it–one farmscraper or rooftop garden at a time.

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