When we think of farming, we imagine sprawling fields as far as the eye can see, but agriculture is heading in a new direction — literally.
Vertical farming is the practice of growing crops in vertically stacked layers to maximize growth with limited space. The Greenbelt Foundation report found a vertical farm can produce the equivalent of over 4,000 square metres of greenhouse space using only 185 square meters of floor space.
When the pandemic arrived, it disrupted supply chains around the world. Working from home means many downtown skyscrapers have been left vacant and useless. Now, vertical farming seeks to turn this into an advantage to meet the needs of our vulnerable food system.
So, could these spaces be repurposed to feed our growing population’s hunger?
Here are the pros and cons of shifting to increased vertical farming.
- pests and pesticides
- precision and control over water and nutrients
- Less waste
- More food produced per acre of land
- More sustainable for our planet
- Reduced distribution supply chains, which means fresher produce at greater speed
- Provides higher-nutrient produce
- Reduced water usage
- Fewer logistical problems due to growing food closer to populations
- Around 95% of indoor seedlings to make it on the dinner table; outdoor crops range from 90% in a good year to around 70% during drought or flood years
- Provides greater reliability in a time when climate change is making outdoor farming unpredictable
- Could reduce contamination by keeping food within one country’s border
- Increased costs
- High level of expertise required
- Limited number of crops can grow profitably (e.g., Strawberries require more sunlight and electricity)
Indoor vertical farming. Image courtesy of Hangar Lab
With the upsides seeming to outweigh the downsides, this futuristic idea is already upon us.
A new Canadian agtech company, Local Leaf Farms, recently opened the doors of its new Barrie facility. By the end of 2025, the company intends to have 20 facilities up and running.
“Canadian consumers are demanding greater transparency about the food they eat, and that demand has never been more urgent,” said Steve Jones, President, and CEO of Local Leaf Farms, in an article by Greenhouse Canada.
Growing herbs in Barrie, Ontario. Image courtesy of Local Leaf Farms
“As we begin to consider a post-COVID reality, we need to have real discussions about the stability — and overall future — of food production in this country. Local Leaf is bringing leading-edge technology to the food sector to produce the fresh, safe and sustainable produce that Canadians are asking for.”
If you’re feeling a little nervous about all this change, you can relax. There is no plan to replace traditional farming. Instead, vertical farming instead to supplement what already exists.
Vertical farm hydroponics facility. Image courtesy of Modern Farmer
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