Sustainable Agriculture

Vertical Farming and Sustainability Part I- Population Growth and Food Sustainability

Part I- Population Growth and Food Sustainability

By 2050 the earth’s population is supposed to reach 8.9 billion people, with most of the population growth happening exclusively in urban areas. There are growing food scarcity problems happening now, that will only be exacerbated by the growing population and lack of available farmable land to grow nutritious agriculture. As many know, a lot of the land in the United States that is used for mass scale agriculture is used to grow food for livestock, so acres of land are being used to grow food not meant for humans. Not only that, but humanity’s consumption of meat has only increased the amount of greenhouse gasses and methane being released into the atmosphere significantly impacting climate change. It needs to become a priority to grow healthy, attainable, nutritious foods locally and  in a sustainable way to insure the health of the world’s growing population. This blog has covered vertical farming in a summarized way before, but in this article and the ones that follow, we will be taking a deeper look at the impacts and implications of using more vertical farming methods. 

Vertical farming is the future, it allows a year long growing season and can grow many different types of vegetation from vegetables, lettuces, and fruits, all edible biomass. There are of course some limitations to the agriculture vertical farming can support, however the benefits of growing crops that vertical farming can sustain far outway the crops it cannot adequately grow. Vertical farming, as the technology stands today, cannot support certain crops such as wheat, rice, and soy but it can produce crops with a high proportion of edible biomass, like mirco greens, lettuce, certain fruits and vegetables. Integrating vertical farming into the food chain, means taking a deeper look at the food chain and how it can be positively disrupted. 

Food deserts are unfortunately common in the United States urban areas, there are huge cities that have neighborhoods with no access to fresh and healthy produce. This limits the options of the residents living in these urban areas when it comes to sourcing fresh produce; they are limited to processed foods that have used a large quantity of fossil fuels to be created and transported, while also not being nutriutionally dense. Vertical farming promises the rehabilitation of abandoned buildings into agricultural growing spaces, this is already being done in some of America’s biggest cities, take for example The Plant in Chicago that has been operational since 2011. 

The Plant is located in a former abandoned firehouse that was converted to a vertical farming operation, growing all kinds of greens from basil, arugula, and kale-  and has also started producing strawberries, peppers, and tomatoes. The research and development aspect is in a constant state of evolution when it comes to vertical farming, the more agricultural technology progresses the more crops and varieties of produce can be grown and start to be shifted to a vertical farming environment. Since the limits of vertical farming are known, such as which crops are viable and which are not, that leaves the opportunities very wide open as to what other edible biomass can be grown on a mass scale vertically. Not only this, but it keeps fresh and healthy produce local, meaning that people looking for food do not need to rely on trucked-in produce from out of state/country that may not be in season, they can instead depend on the local vertical farms that are not dependent on the seasons. 

Locally sourced foods benefit not only the environment, not only the health of the people consuming them, but also the community. It is important to think of vertical farming as a ‘circular economy’ and not a linear system. A circular economy means in essence is a ‘closed-looped’ system, waste is repurposed and reused, such as brewery waste being used as a growing medium for edible mushrooms. Traditional linear systems focus on sending materials and produce in only one direction, either a landfill or the environment. Linear systems are not sustainable as so many resources on earth are finite, shifting to a circular economy method by using vertical farming promises the opposite result- everything can be re-used or re-purposed.