One of the biggest concerns of modern life is space. In countries like Japan where people don’t even find enough space to live, agriculture becomes impossible. Nevertheless, the modern man makes this impossibility possible. One of the popular solutions to this problem is vertical farming. However, like all the other solutions this solution also have its negative sides.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly about Vertical Farming
We can describe vertical farming as a contemporary concept (first proposed as recently as in 1999). It is actually a defining amalgamation of urban and rural fabric of life. It calls for commercially viable crops. Farmers are to cultivate and grow these crops inside multi-storey buildings. These buildings will mimic a wholly sustainable ecological system. Therefore, it’s a fascinating proposition that can perfectly harmonize with the spatial and natural elements. Moreover, it would produce food for humanity’s need. Furthermore, we can also logically argue so, albeit with some disadvantages.
Farming in the future:
If we think about the future with the population increasing exponentially, we are clearly running out of space for important sustaining production activities, such as farming. In this case, a concept like vertical farming can prove to be an efficient spatial management system. The vertical alignment does not put pressure upon the overall density of an area, just like skyscrapers.
A plethora of other important advantages can be associated with vertical farming. Chief among them would be the lessening of transportation costs, as skyscrapers will produce the bulk of the food inside them. Moreover, it will in effect prevent some degree of deforestation, sprawl and other adverse aftermaths of agriculture. Even the environment in which the food will be produced would be a stringently controlled greenhouse for greater crop yields and will nullify the need for pesticides and fertilizers. The convenient consequence would be much cleaner cities with reduced global warming effects.
Can this be better?
Comprehensively yes, as vertical farming can epitomize the green way of life with its holistic approach. In the current situation, diverse strands of natural perennial vegetation (such as prairies, savannahs, and forests) feature monocultures of weakly rooted, soil-damaging annual crops such as corn, soybean, and wheat. Their output is only increased by greater consumption of fossil fuels. So vertical farming can act as a much sustainable alternative by negating such fuel’s usage.
We are talking about how vertical farming can significantly reduce transportation costs, but, on the other hand, it should be taken into account that transportation industry does form an important part of our overall economy. So occupations like farming, delivery drivers, garbage collectors and even garbage scavengers will be placed at a disadvantage. Moreover, once vertical farming is integrated within a skyscraper, it would require copious amount of natural daylighting for the farm to be nourished. This can increase the interior temperature of the building during daytime, and substantially reduce the temperature after sunset (because of transpiration). Hence, more energy will be expended on heating and cooling systems, than that being saved by natural daylight.
Can this be avoided?
To some degree – yes, but for that artificial lighting has to be adopted optimally for a specific time of the day, which can strike a balance between the amount of energy expended and the production. Moreover, that would require the whole technology to advance more than just being a Utopian idea. As for jobs, there should be an efficient and logical program that can recreate employments for these people in the field of vertical farming itself.
Vertical farms have a long way to go before they can be put into actual practice. Even before it comes into everyday existence, a lot of research needs to be done especially in the fields of industrial microbiology, hydrobiology, engineering, physics, plant and animal genetics, waste management, public health and urban planning. However, the biggest problem lies with the cost effectiveness of the system, as scientist and anti-global warming activist George Monbiot calculated that the cost of providing enough supplementary light to grow the grain for a single loaf would be almost $10 or more! Some moderate estimates say that initial building costs can easily be over $100 million, for a 60-hectare vertical farm. Now add to that the high office occupancy costs in major cities like Tokyo, Moscow, New York, Dubai, etc.
Why are we so critical?
The power required for a vertical farm can be 100 times more than the amount of light required by people working in office buildings. There are problems of even light pollution, especially during the night time when the greenhouses have to utilize artificial light. Summed up with the high cost, such a conception can seriously affect the magnitude of total energy usage in our economy.
Examples:1. Sustainable vertical farm concept
Eco Factor: Building designed to grow food hydroponically on frame structures.
Many architects and researchers believe that with the land available for farming decreasing continuously, the future of farming rests in skyscrapers that are designed specifically for growing food. Designers at VEIL believe that growing food indoors using conventional technology won’t be feasible.
VEIL (Victorian Eco Innovation Lab) has come up with an improved design for a vertical farm that grows food hydroponically on frame structures. The building consists of large floor plates which are two stories high. With few internal floor-to-wall structures, the internal floors are kept open to allow maximum daylight and air to filter through, which will reduce the building’s dependence on artificial lighting and temperature regulation.
The vertical farm will primarily make use of stairs and the use of elevator will be confined to just one tower. The design also includes an office station, research center, café and a bio-recycling area.
Example:2. Vertical Farm with Wind Turbines
Seems like we are really hard pressed for land these days. People are expanding vertically not just for homes, but also for farms. Therefore, the concept of vertical farming has come up. People are trying extremely hard to come up with an acceptable and practical design for vertical farms. The Dallas Skyfarm is one such design. It tries to localize the idea of vertical farming to get the best out of green energy.
Farmers grow food in this new design of vertical farm in a shallow hydroponic system. It is usually at the higher levels of the structure while the lower levels shelter larger trees. There are wind turbines which ensure constant production of green energy. This feature, in particular, is because of the huge wind energy potential of generally windy Dallas.
While the top levels produce food, the lower levels can also be used as green parks and a structure like this will be of minimum intrusion in an urban ecosystem. With population across the globe increasing exponentially, we need to explore new ways of farming that will be less exhausting on the limited land at an offer. Designs like the Dallas Skyfarm try and provide a roadmap towards that solution.
The Bottom line:
Vertical farms can effectually prove to be alternative venues for agriculture. However, this can only happen if we take certain initiatives. For example, vertical farms could produce their own power by tapping into local renewable sources (solar, wind, tidal or geothermal). Moreover, they can also generate energy by burning biomass from crop waste. However, one should remember that we need to employ sustainable technologies. These would reduce the impact on overall energy consumption; and not the other way round.