Introduction to Vertical Farming

May 25, 2022
Durango CoOp is a community partner of Mercy Hospital in the work to battle food insecurity; featuring vegetables and fruit.

What is vertical farming?

The simplest definition of vertical farming is growing plants in a vertical configuration, whether on a wall, in horizontal stacks or in vertical cylinders. Most vertical farms use hydroponics, but a few use soil. Hydroponics uses water with added nutrients and a substance to support root growth like sand, gravel, or foam. Most large-scale vertical farms are in greenhouses or buildings. Vertical farms in buildings are called plant factories. Greenhouse operations use sunlight for plant growth, while those inside buildings rely completely on LEDs for light. However, LEDs may still be necessary in greenhouses to compensate for cloudy days or in places in the house where plants get less sunlight. Typically, greenhouse production is influenced by the external climate and weather where plant factories are not and can operate anywhere in the world year-round.

Vertical farms can produce food organically. They follow strict sanitation protocols to prevent pests and diseases. Many plant factories are automated to the point that people rarely touch the crops, and all workers wear personal protective equipment such as gloves and gowns. Most commercial-scale vertical farms focus on compact fast-growing crops like lettuces, spinach, and microgreens, but peppers, tomatoes, and strawberries have also been grown successfully. Taller plants take up too much space, and plants with longer growth cycles are not as profitable. In plant factories, the amount of light and the optimal concentration of nutrients can be tailored for each crop.

Why is vertical farming important?

According to the United Nations, by 2050 the world’s population is projected to grow to 10 billion and 70% of people will live in urban areas. Currently, 80% of the Earth’s land that is suitable for agriculture is already being farmed. More land will need to be converted to farmland to support the needs of the increased population. This means more natural habitat destruction. Vertical farms use much less land, and studies have shown that crop yields can be up to 30 times that of conventional farms per acre depending on the crop.

Another advantage of vertical farms is that they can be located in urban or rural areas and can produce year-round in any climate. Existing buildings or warehouses can be converted to plant factories, and greenhouses can be added to the rooftops of buildings. Plant factories can be located in food deserts and provide healthy local produce to the expanding urban population. They also provide jobs. For example, Plenty, a company that uses vertical cylinder growing technology opened a facility in Compton, CA that will provide around 50 jobs and local produce using 1% of the land and 5% of the water of traditional farming operations. Another factor worth mentioning is plant varieties can be selected based on flavor rather than drought and disease resistance or stability during transport.

Challenges with vertical farming

Currently, plant factories grow nutrient-rich produce, but not the cereal and legume crops that are needed to feed the world. Studies into the feasibility of growing rice vertically are promising, but not yet viable. Although vertical farming operations use very little water and land compared to traditional farming, they must use energy for lighting. LEDs are the most efficient source of lighting currently available, but they still require a year-round source of electricity. Depending on the location, buildings and greenhouses may also require heating and cooling. Some studies argue that this electricity can be offset by using renewable energy resources and eliminating the transportation component of shipping food long distances to urban areas. Vertical farming is still a small industry but has a promising future in providing fresh food for growing populations.

Our partnership with FarmBox

Our ministry is committed to improving food security and increasing access to healthy, affordable foods. To support this effort, we are proud to own and help operate three FarmBox food containers. Our vertical hydroponic container farms feed our flourishing communities in Pueblo, Castle Rock and south Denver!


Vertical farms could take over the world | Hard Reset by Freethink.

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