5 Reasons Vertical Farming is the Future
Updated: Aug 14
Vertical farming is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to industrial agriculture, but can the practice truly provide high quality, nutritious produce when grown indoors, or even underground?
Vertical farming is becoming increasingly popular, and is proving to be a sustainable solution to industrial agriculture. We visited one such vertical farm in Liverpool, known as Greens For Good, to learn more about the practices of aquaponics and vertical farming to find out if these “urban farms” hold the answer to the flaws of industrial agriculture.
The United Nations estimates that the global population will surge to 9.7 billion by 2050. In addition to having to find living space and ensure accessible necessities for everyone, the question of how the world will be able to feed everyone is a daunting one. To accommodate this, it’s estimated that global food production will need to increase by up to 70% in the next 30 years, and the world is going to need various ways of mass producing food, without sacrificing nutritional content or further degrading the world’s soils.
We had the opportunity to meet with Paul Myers, one of the incredible founders of Greens For Good, and its first commercial scale farm in the Baltic Triangle in Liverpool, UK. This location (as of spring 2021) has 240 towers that can hold roughly 12 to 15 rows of plants. They're hydroponically grown, and are provided light using specialised LED strips.
Greens For Good is also a social enterprise, working to educate the local community on the importance of organic, high-quality produce, and is working with several Liverpool-based food programs to provide their produce to marginalised communities.
So why is vertically grown food more sustainable, nutritious, and better for the planet?
The Benefits of Vertical Farming
1. Reliable year-round crop production
The most significant advantage of vertical farming is that it is not weather dependent! This means that continuous year-round crop production can be achieved without worrying about the influence of weather conditions like extreme temperatures on the crops!
As climate change continues to take its toll on the earth, more and more crops are going to be subject to these extreme weather conditions. In August of 2022 for example, Western Europe including the UK, France, Portugal, and Spain suffered unprecedented heatwaves, all-time record-breaking temperatures, and drought, completely obliterating an estimated 10% of all crops grown this year. This leads to fears for food security in the coming years, especially as these scorching temperatures continue to rise.
Vertical farming, on the other hand, is given light either refracted through a greenhouse, or through specially developed, energy-efficient LED strips that provide plants with the adequate amount of light needed to grow. Similarly, the perfect amount of water is allocated to each tower, to ensure that plants are watered as needed, and aren’t subject to over- or under-watering.
2. Better use of space
Did you know that half of the world's habitable land is used for agriculture? While traditional farms require vast amounts of fertile agricultural land, vertical farms may be planned and developed in any environment or location. Greens for Good, for example, is in a former warehouse basement that lacks windows.
Also, because vertical farms’ stacking systems allow crop rows to expand upwards rather than outwards, they have the opportunity to attain a greater output using less land area, providing more space for the world’s vital ecosystems to thrive.
3. Greener outside and in
It’s important to note that as humans we are connected to the natural world, and this connection has been shown to have incredible benefits on both our mental and physical wellbeing. With an increase in the number of vertical farms, this also could mean an increase in more positive feelings towards indoor spaces. Perhaps while vertical farming continues to do wonders for the environment as a whole, it can also make positive contributions to our mental health!
Not only are vertical farms a benefit to our minds, but they are also contributing to improving air quality and reducing noise. So, if you live in a noisy area, or are just looking for some greener spaces, you may want to consider starting your very own vertical farm. Could you see a mini-vertical farm living in your home? If so, start here.
4. Minimise water usage
As aforementioned, one of the key advantages of hydroponic vertical farming is that the amount of water required for crops to reach their peak potential is scientifically measured and distributed by either misters above, or through a drip-down process within the towers. This ensures that water doesn’t go to waste, and that crops get the precise amount they need to flourish.
The hydroponic growing process, too, uses less water than traditional methods, and requires less chemical fertilisers. From this lack of harmful chemicals and pesticides contaminating the water on its way down, the collected water is pure after use, meaning it can be recycled and reused, lowering expenses, and decreasing fresh water waste.
5. Environmental protection
Did you know that 52% of our world’s agricultural soils are already depleted? This means that the nutrients essential to growing crops that soil used to provide are no longer present in over half of the world’s agricultural soils. This is due to soil exhaustion, monoculture, chemical runoff and excessive pesticide use, and, if allowed to go further, can trigger mass biodiversity loss, food scarcity, conflict and migration crises, water scarcity, and can amplify the impact of climate change.
Because organic vertical farms do not require mass amounts of soil or chemical fertilisers, and are instead grown in individual little pods, their mere existence can help alleviate the crippling pressure the world’s soil is under to produce food multiple times per year, every year.
Similarly, fossil fuels play a huge part in how damaging traditional agricultural systems can be on our planet. Crops grown using traditional agriculture methods rely heavily on nitrogen fertilisers, petroleum-based agricultural chemicals, irrigation pumps, diesel for machinery, and petroleum for global food delivery.
The need for fossil fuels in vertical farming is dramatically reduced firstly due to its eliminated need for large agricultural machinery like tractors, ploughs, pesticide sprayers, weeders, or harvesters. Many vertical farms around the world, too, have a commitment to being run by 100% renewable energy, to one day hopefully completely eliminate the sector’s reliance on fossil fuels. Eden Towers in Perth, Australia is particularly leading the way by being the world’s first solar-powered, commercial-scale vertical farm.