Vertical Farming and three socio-economic challenges

The rising trend of Vertical Farming cannot be undermined. Globally, several stakeholders are looking for a way to have a piece of ‘the vertical pie’. Consequently, research is needed to be truly successful in this, and any other work field. Whether it is a technological company experimenting with different light spectra on spinach, a vertical farmer trying to reduce water waste or a consultancy agency giving advice on how to optimize the supply chain, all these researches have one thing in common: it is about the technical development of this fresh approach in urban farming. It can be asserted that research about the concept of Vertical Farming itself is critical for a prosperous development. However, just research about the technological development itself is not enough to deeply investigate all the opportunities and threats. The dominating global economy of capital growth, with other words capitalism, demands an understanding beyond the concept itself. Therefore, all surrounding stakeholders become part of the research. Up until this moment, there was no such research on the effects of Vertical Farming on stakeholders. The objective of this research is to provide additional information about the socio-economic effects of Vertical Farming in developed countries within the next twenty years. These effects will be divided in three distinct challenges that Vertical Farming has to face: the change in global employment, the division of power within the food/ seed industry and the behavior of consumers towards innovative ideas of growing food. Since Vertical Farming is conceptualized in New York, the world’s biggest Vertical Farm is in New Jersey and the most Vertical Farming startups happen in the United States and Canada in general, the main focus of this research is on these countries. 

The research approach

The interviews

To emphasize the importance of practical utilization from this research, the choice has been made to perform interviews with a wide variety of stakeholders: actual Vertical Farmers, professors and Vertical Farming consultancy companies. Each respondent was asked to share their views on the socio-economic effects of Vertical Farming.

The questions

The main question

Which socio-economic effects (global employment, division of power and consumer behavior) will vertical farming set in motion in developed countries during the coming twenty years?

The sub questions

  • Which socio-economic effects, regarding global employment, will vertical farming set in motion in developed countries during the coming twenty years?

  • Which socioeconomic effects, regarding division of power, will vertical farming set in motion in developed countries during the coming twenty years?

  • Which socio-economic effects, regarding consumer behaviour, will vertical farming set in motion in developed countries during the coming twenty years?

 

The respondents

Respondent

Organization

Why relevant?

Saba Nazarian

Sabzy Greens

Saba Nazarian is a local Vertical Farmer in Montreal, Canada. Besides farming, Saba focuses on educating consumers about the importance of Vertical Farming. Saba Nazarian shared his views on how he sees Vertical Farming can change the way consumers think about food. 

Ron Mitchell

Local Greens

Ron Mitchell is the founder and general manager of Local Greens in Berkeley, CA. Ron Mitchell shared his views from the standpoint of running a large Vertical Farm. 

Dickson Despommier

Columbia University

Often referenced as ‘the father of Vertical Farming’, Dickson Despommier is the inventor of the whole concept and shared his views from an academic point of view. 

Henry Gordon-Smith

Association for Vertical Farming / Agritecture Consulting / AgTech X

The main activities of Henry Gordon-Smith embody consultancy for Vertical Farmers. Being used to give advice on the topic, Henry Gordon-Smith shared his views from this broad perspective. 

Andrew Carter

Smallhold

Instead of using one or a few (big) production locations, Andrew Carter, founder of Smallhold, has chosen to distribute the production to various mini-farms inside the shops and restaurants that sell Smallhold’s products, all across New York, NY. Andrew Carter shared his views based on his unique market approach.

David Ceaser

Green Skies Vertical Farm

David Ceaser is the founder of Green Skies Vertical Farm in Oakland, CA. David Ceaser has a unique approach by incorporating elements of Vertical Farming into outdoor urban farming. By doing so, David Ceaser is able to grow a large number of crops in a suburban area. Since David Ceaser supplies the local community, he was happy to share his insides about the socio-economic effects within these areas.

Ricky Stephens

AgTech X

Devoted to creating a place where Vertical and Urban Farmers can connect, share ideas and work together Ricky Stephens founded AgTech X. A Co-working place for urban farmers to connect. Ricky Stephens shared his views from his ‘community-style learning’ experience. 

 

Conclusion

Global employment

A shift in global employment will eventually occur, regardless how Vertical Farming will develop. However, this transition can be called a smooth transition rather than a hard shock. Automation in transport and mobility forms the biggest threat to job loss. At the same time, automation creates new types of work which can fill the gap between job loss and job opportunities. Vertical Farming cannot be blamed for the loss of jobs because of automation.Furthermore, Vertical Farming will create more jobs than the potential job loss. 

 

Division of power

It is not easy for starters on the Vertical Farming market. Financing the farm can be very capital intensive, there are a lot of patent holding companies and, in many countries, there is no specific certification for Vertical Farmers. Furthermore, it is quite frequent that Vertical Farms do not fit in the eco or bio certifications. Consequently, consumer will not be able to see the added value of food that has been grown in a Vertical Farm. Because of this, consumers can develop a wrong assumption that Vertical Farms provide food that is not organic, healthy and ecological. Therefore, it is critical to stress the importance of more government regulations to stimulate Vertical Farming. 

 

Consumer behaviour

Alongside the rising trend to consume locally, healthy and organically produced food, there is more focus on educating consumers about the importance of these factors. Vertical Farming will benefit immensely from this global trend. Moreover, combining Vertical Farming with education about these topics is a trend that is gaining popularity over the past few years. The potential risk to the growth of Vertical Farming that people will assume that food from a Vertical Farm is artificial is not significant, since younger generations will understand the importance and benefits of Vertical Farming. In addition, Vertical Farming will teach people where their crops come from and how a growing process works. Consumers will be more connected to food consumption and will be more cautious when dealing with buying, consumption and disposal of food. 

 

General thoughts

In addition to three mentioned topics, the research pointed out that there is a growing need for a global (online) platform of open source information sharing in the Vertical Farming community. Many initiatives could learn from each other to enhance the growth of Vertical Farming substantially. 

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Written by Jos Hummelen 
Co-author: Isabel Brenner

The earth now, has around 7.6 billion people and every second a little baby with an empty stomach is born. With the current growth rate of the world population and less fertile land to grow our food on, the global food problem increases. In order to ensure that everyone has a chance of fresh locally produced food, therefore it is high time for innovation. Vertical farming seems to have everything to be at least part of the solution.