The Rise of Vertical Farming
Food flats and vertical farming as an alternative to our inefficient food system: in order to do vertical farming in a sustainable way, we must integrate the food production into the urban infrastructure for a significant part. At present, our food system is inefficiently organized: our food travels many kilometers, uses a lot of water, is wasted and pollutes the environment. Nevertheless, the 7 billion inhabitants, often living in large cities, need to be fed. Food flats and vertical farming in urban agriculture are important alternatives to our current inefficient food system.
To produce sufficient food for the estimated – nine billion people in 20 years, experiments with vertical farming, rooftop gardening and even sea-farming are being conducted. Food is inefficiently hauled around the world to feed cities and to provide people who live in places where no food can be grown. Two-thirds of all available fresh water is now being used for food production. Two thirds of all water pollution is caused by the use of pesticides. In order to reduce the amount of foodmiles, the distance that takes food between place of production and consumption, and prevent waste, vertical farms are emerging worldwide.
The American company Aerofarms is currently the largest vertical farm in the world. In a former steel factory, looking industrial and raw from outside, and being high tech indoors, the company produces lettuce and vegetable for around 25,000 people in the neighborhood. Aerofarms is putting on this kind of vertical farms in several locations worldwide. Always in the city up to 1.5 kilometers away from a large supermarket or distribution center.
But Aerofarm is not the only one. In cities where it is difficult to supply enough fresh food, local entrepreneurs sniff the opportunities and start city-building initiatives. Sometimes small-scale as a social project, sometimes large-scale and necessary, as in Sweden and Singapore. In the Netherlands this need is smaller. Westland is already being cultivated in a very intensive way. On a relatively small piece of land, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers are produced for the whole world.
The Netherlands, after the United States, is the second agricultural exporter in the world. Everywhere farmers, gardeners, researchers and mayors come to our country to inform themselves. The combination of the research power of Wageningen University, the experience of growers and the technological knowledge about the possibilities of led lighting that is indispensable for vertical agriculture makes our country unique. But is our position as exporting country to be under pressure as more and more companies from all over the world, with our knowledge, grow their vegetables and lettuce vertically and locally?