The densely populated city of Singapore is home to the first commercial-scale vertical farm, which opened last year, with the aim of decreasing dependence on food imports.
Just 274 square miles, most of which is city, leaving little space to grow crops and vegetables for the inhabitants of Singapore. As a result, the city currently only produces 7 percent of its vegetables locally, meaning it has to buy from other countries.
The vertical farm, which has been developed by Sky Green Farms, consists of aluminum towers, each extending up almost 30 feet in height. It can produce over 1,000 pounds of three kinds of vegetables per day, all of which are sold in the local FairPrice Finest supermarkets. Crazily though, they cost a little more than imported vegetables.
That hasn’t stopped them becoming popular with local consumers and frequently run out of stock. On this basis, the company is looking for investors to allow it to produce two tons of vegetables per day which, with economies of scale, means the prices can be reduced.
Are we seeing the way forward in farming where open spaces are shrinking as cities and town sprawl and more mouths need feeding? With the idea that by the year 2050, nearly 80% of the earth’s population will reside in urban centers and the human population will increase by about 3 billion during the interim, an estimated 109 hectares of new land (about 20% more land than is represented by the country of Brazil) will be needed to grow enough food to feed them, if traditional farming practices continue as they are practiced today. Obviously this amount of space is just not viable and it is now that we need to look at other ways to minimise and maximise scales and outputs.
Dr Dickson Despommier, of Columbia University in the US thinks Vertical Farming is definitely the way forward and has written a book on the subject and simply outlined the world-saving advantages as follows:
Advantages of Vertical Farming
- Year-round crop production; 1 indoor acre is equivalent to 4-6 outdoor acres or more, depending upon the crop (e.g., strawberries: 1 indoor acre = 30 outdoor acres)
- No weather-related crop failures due to droughts, floods, pests
- All VF food is grown organically: no herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers
- VF virtually eliminates agricultural runoff by recycling black water
- VF returns farmland to nature, restoring ecosystem functions and services
- VF greatly reduces the incidence of many infectious diseases that are acquired at the agricultural interface
- VF converts black and gray water into potable water by collecting the water of
- VF adds energy back to the grid via methane generation from composting non-edible
parts of plants and animals
- VF dramatically reduces fossil fuel use (no tractors, plows, shipping.)
- VF converts abandoned urban properties into food production centers
- VF creates sustainable environments for urban centers
- VF creates new employment opportunities
- We cannot go to the moon, Mars, or beyond without first learning to farm indoors on
- VF may prove to be useful for integrating into refugee camps
- VF offers the promise of measurable economic improvement for tropical and subtropical
LDCs. If this should prove to be the case, then VF may be a catalyst in helping to reduce or even reverse the population growth of LDCs as they adopt urban agriculture as a strategy for sustainable food production.
- VF could reduce the incidence of armed conflict over natural resources, such as water
and land for agriculture
With designs for these farms capturing the imaginations of architects, scientists and inventors and ranging from the simple to the sublime, this innovation could help change not only our landscape but the way the world eats, giving dense cities an opportunity to grow food in their own back yard.