Edison Smiles at Vertical Farming

The idea of farming is being re-imagined, no longer a horizontal area of land, but a vertical affair instead, stretching up into the air. Could this be a way to introduce farming into the urban environment and put people back in touch with where their food originates?

Vertical plant growth can be through hydroponics [where roots are immersed in a pool of water and nutrients], or aeroponics [where roots are misted with water and nutrients]. Artificial lighting is used to provide the “solar” input. But no soil is needed.

A look at the benefits of controlled growth vertical farms:

  • Year-round production
  • No need for pesticides
  • Weatherproof against harsh weather/temperatures
  • Water conservation-may be up to 70% savings in use
  • Less spoilage
  • Food sold locally in urban areas requires little transportation costs/emissions
  • Requires less space than traditional horizontal farms
  • Urban farms can make use of old abandoned factory buildings
  • Creates local jobs and industries for expanded tax base.

Some downsides:

  • Not all crops can be grown this way- would still need to use traditional farming
  • Artificial lighting can be energy intensive, leading to energy emissions, and higher food costs.

Are we likely to see a massive shift to vertical farming? It’s probably too early to know for sure, but some interesting trends are happening. Consider, at Sky Greens in Singapore, one ton of greens is produced each day using vertical farm techniques.

Sky Greens is a single-story vertical farm.

Sky Greens is a single-story vertical farm.

Give it a look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0X8E7MmeYL4.

Newark, NJ, based Aerofarms operates several farms. Its global headquarters hosts a 70,000 square foot vertical farm, [the largest in the world] capable of harvesting 2 million pounds of produce every year. Check it out at http://www.businessinsider.com/photos-of-aerofarms-the-worlds-largest-vertical-farm-in-newark-2016-2.

A rendering of Aerofarms' new facility, the world's largest vertical farm—built on an old manufacturing site.

A rendering of Aerofarms’ new facility, the world’s largest vertical farm—built on an old manufacturing site.

Even though vertically grown leafy vegetables are a bit more expensive, consumers like the freshness and locally grown nature of it all. Costs are not prohibitive and likely to improve with time and technological advances. Keeping those artificial lighting energy costs down is a challenge that needs to be addressed.

In his later years, Edison was growing large crops of special plant varieties in Florida in an attempt to find a substitute for natural rubber. If successful, he would have established large farms in Georgia and Florida dedicated to growing the plants. Certainly, farming technology would have interested him.

Thomas Edison said, “I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it.”

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

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