Friday 5: Why Vertical Farming Is Getting Tasty…

There are a lot of us humans in the world at the moment with the last headcount coming in at 7.9bn. And with all of these people milling about, they’ll need to be fed.

The big weekly shop isn’t going to cut it, that’s clear — but the real issue is that our traditional arable farming set-up isn’t going to cover it either. The required landmass is just too vast to be sustainable, even more so when space is at a premium as urbanisation continues to increase. Enter Vertical Farming, which could just be the answer to feeding the world.

The high-rise, urban solution can, in some cases, allow for 10x the crop yield of your traditional farm, while also providing more variety of produce, all year round. The big bonus is that it’s reportedly more sustainable than your normal field-centred operation.

So with Vertical Farming growing (ahem…) in prominence, what do we know about it…

  1. We should “forget about transportation in order to justify vertical farming.”

Why should you care?

“Food miles” has always been cited as a major advantage of vertical farming over the more traditional field-based approach. Vertical farms’ very nature means that they can grow produce in built-up, urban areas. Warehouses, shipping containers and even old wartime shelters make for perfect venues for such ventures. It also means that they can be located closer to distribution centres, supermarkets and wholesalers rather than “out in the sticks”.

However, Mark Korzilius of &ever, believes that rather than looking at distances, we should be concentrating on taste and nutritious food. That is not to say that we should discount the green credentials of the product. &ever has a “harvest on demand” process meaning that all its salad is distributed as potted plants. That means less of a carbon footprint because there is no bagging and refrigerating of the product.

Healthy food means a healthy planet. Big tick.

2. Who will grow the first vertical farm watermelon?

Why should you care?

Because it could be you! Hectar is a project that allows you, the humble consumer, to have your own vertical farm in your home. All open-source, the project’s creators provide manuals on how to grow your own produce, all in the space of a bookshelf. So far its community has grown kale, rocket, spinach, lettuce, basil, coriander, parsley, pak choi and green beans. They have now challenged their “farmers” to grow the first at-home vertical farm watermelon, all from the comfort of their living room.

So are you up to the challenge?

3. Why vertical farming is an underground movement

Why should you care?

This is not Velvet PR claiming to know about Vertical Farming before it was cool. No, this is about vertical farming going underground…literally. Appropriately named, Growing Underground, has been operating from underneath London’s Clapham High street since 2015 and claims to be the “world’s first subterranean farm”. Housed in a Second World War bomb shelter, it grows hundreds of thousands of the capital’s fresh greens. And the best thing about it is that this indoor environment, coupled with the latest LED technology means that no pesticides are required! Plus, they don’t need to worry about season changes. Great tasting food all year round, and coming from 33 metres below our feet.

So next time you are stumbling out of Infernos, the ingredients for your hangover busting green smoothie could be growing beneath your feet…

4. The UAE vertical farming scene is thriving

Why should you care?

Conditions in the United Arab Emirates are not exactly set up for food farming. In fact, only about 81,000 hectares (200,000 acres) of land in the region is being cultivated, meaning that in order to grow fresh produce, farmers and producers need to get creative. Vertical farming, for many, is the answer meaning that the UAE has the potential to be a hub of innovation in the sector. If you are able to grow food in the desert, then you can grow food anywhere is the theory.

Governments have recognised the potential of the market, and with the region importing 80% of its food, knows that investment is going to be key. The Abu Dhabi Investment Office has pledged a $272 million program to support agtech demonstrating a key commitment to the sector as it looks to solve the challenges of feeding its people, in a hostile growing environment.

5. People are investing in green

Why should you care?

Sustainability, green business, eco-friendly. These buzzwords have become big business for investors. Those in the know see the smart money being on those businesses that have an environmental purpose at its core, and they have food tech and agritech firmly in their sights.

At the end of last month, vertical farming start-up AeroFarms listed at $1.2bn. And it is by no means the first to go public recently.

Concerns around sustainability and food miles aren’t the only reasons for this investment boom. The pandemic has shown that the supply chain is fragile, raising concerns around food security. Vertical farming seems like the ideal solution to these challenges.

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