I was recently present at an event where there was a discussion surrounding the funding of an indoor greenhouse. The proposal called for converting an abandoned factory into a fully functioning greenhouse which would use artificial lighting and hydroponics to grow lettuce.
As we crowd into tighter urban spaces, moving our food sources in closer to us can help save resources by cutting down on transportation costs.
However, some forces are slowing the progress of this idea. To begin with, urban space is at a premium and is often cost-prohibitive for this type of production facility. This is why abandoned factories and other blighted land types are typically a top consideration.
Additionally, it takes resources to run these facilities. The light systems require electricity. Ideally, these facilities will either pull this energy from a green energy source or build a solar station of their own to support their electricity needs. With the other costs involved in construction, it is rare that these considerations are given much priority.
This often results in dirty energy being used for an otherwise green project.
Consideration also has to be given to where any water from the lettuce farm will be disposed of as it is high in nitrogen and other fertilizers that can encourage algae overgrowth in the waterways it is discharged into.
Properly designed, though, these hydroponic systems require less water because they don’t loose as much to evaporation in a temperature controlled environment as opposed to an open-aired farm.
Additionally, with the correct recycling system, it reduces the discharge, which puts fewer fertilizer chemicals into the waterways than most agriculture operations.
Despite these considerations, there are some exciting developments on this front. A new type of indoor greenhouse called “pink houses” use pink LED lights as their ideal source. Pink light is a lower-energy light, and it uses electricity than full-spectrum bulbs. Additionally, because it is a cooler light, it lowers the amount of energy required to reduce interior building heat inside these operations.
This type of vertical farming is finding added incentive from the medical marijuana industry. A facility in Texas called Caliber Bioethics grows Marijuana under license for medical research. Their warehouse stacks the trays 50 feet high to maximize the growing space.
Thanks to this technology, they can grow 2.2 million plants in a 150,00 square foot space.
A fascinating discovery that Caliber Bioethics has discovered is that by protecting their plants and providing them with ideal lighting conditions, they can grow their plants 20% faster than the competition.
Un unfair advantage, indeed.
As romantic as the idea of sky-high skyscrapers that have hanging gardens growing off their side and providing an entire city with its nutritional requirements, Cary Mitchell of Purdue University doesn’t think it is going to work out that way
Dr. Mitchell has been researching ways to grow vegetables in tight urban spaces. He imagines that societies will capitalize on suburban areas by adding warehouses on the edge of the city where land is slightly less expensive.
This theory makes sense. Except for cities like New York, most of the major metropolis in American can be traversed in under an hour. Moving produce production to the edge would allow these towns to be near their food source without sacrificing the vital commercial or residential living space.
We have yet to see vertical farming take off. But the technology is there and is proven. Now we just need some pioneering individuals, unused space, and plenty of funding to put it more of these farms into production.