Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Vertical Farming: The Rise of Food Sustainability

You may or may not have heard about a new type of farming called “vertical farming”; yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like! Vertical farmers utilize unique space by farming upwards, in and on top of skyscrapers and tall buildings. Vertical farming is a great way towards a more sustainable alternative to regular crop farming because it means you can buy locally grown food while not using up any land. This can reduce emissions created from food products that travel long distances and, with an abundance of buildings, it’s possible to have hundreds of thousands pounds of vegetables and herbs produced annually and sold locally!

Dickson Despommier, a professor at Columbia University, describes here why vertical farming could, and should, change the world: 

(Learn more at

With Vancouver vying to be one of the greenest cities in the world by 2020, vertical farming can be one of those ideas that really puts a city over the top. Enter Alterrus Systems Inc., a Vancouver based company that was formed for the very purpose of creating North America’s first ever “VertiCrop” farm. VertiCrop is a technological innovation that revolutionized farming by allowing vegetables and herbs to grow vertically without any soil, pesticides, or herbicides. VertiCrop can change the way we farm by providing fresh produce to local communities quicker than ever before. The first-ever VertiCrop farm in North America will be located on the roof of a parking lot located in downtown Vancouver and will produce around 150,000 pounds of green produce annually. The food will then packaged and sold locally under the brand name “Local Garden”.

A Problem of Sustainability
The world’s population is increasing. But we are running out of land for farming. 70% of all fresh water on the planet is used for agriculture. yet the runoff is unusable due to contaminants in the soil. To sustainably create the amount of food the world will require, farming needs to be modified. We require a combination of solutions and a paradigm shift in how we grow and distribute healthy food.
The World Needs to Grow Up
Vertical farming addresses the problems of increased demand for sustainable, nutritious food. Vast areas of underutilized urban space, such as empty buildings and rooftops, can be used to grow fresh produce at or near to where it is to be consumed. Contrast this with the status quo that ships produce to grocers from an average of 1,500 miles away. Transporting produce over such long distances not only generates carbon emissions, but a dependence on foreign oil. In addition, closed-loop vertical farming environments don’t require the use of harmful pesticides and herbicides, which totally eliminates contaminated runoff. And with only the minimal amount of water needed to grow a variety of fresh, healthy produce, this sustainable farming method helps conserve our planet’s most precious resource.
- Alterrus

In the United Kingdom, the team at Vertical Veg are teaching people how to grow vertical farms themselves, right on their balconies! By following their blog or attending classes, individuals can learn how to grow food to feed themselves, their families, and more. Depending how much space each person has, they can grow as little as a one plant to as much as the creators themselves! Vertical Veg reports how much they grow by weight and dollar value so readers can really see the difference this sustainable innovation can make. Check out their Growing Diaries to learn more.

If you're interested in growing your own food try searching local information to ensure you grow the proper crops at the appropriate times of year for the greatest success. Be sure to review your building and city bylaws as well to ensure you are operating within your limits! There are also many other sustainable agricultural projects popping up around the world so if you're interested in participating be sure to keep an eye out. In Vancouver the Strathcona Community Gardens and SOLEfood Farm are doing their part to support the greenest city. Restaurants such as the Forage are also going green by using local foods, emitting zero-waste, and installing solar panels. There are also food trucks that are being set up that sell food products made from local ingredients and utilize renewable energy.