Vertical Farming: The Solution to the Global Food Problem? Part 1

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.

What exactly is vertical farming?

In Café De Ceuvel in Amsterdam we meet Ben Pieterse, who is currently working for Own Greens and this platform and Brian Ruijter from ReGen Villages to talk about this subject. The served lunch comes (at least partly) from Café De Ceuvel’s own vertical farm. We are stunned and later we ask for a little tour. Café De Ceuvel is one of the most innovative and sustainable places you can find anywhere. Not long after lunch I find out why this progressive place invests heavily on this modern technology. 

It is not often called this way, but all food is currently being grown horizontally. That is not efficient: it needs a lot of space and water. On the whole surface farmers have to adjust the irrigation and keep everything healthy with pesticides. Pieterse from Own Greens explains how vertical farming is much more efficient. The idea is to tilt the farm and grow food in a vertical way, the water trickles down and the farm is mostly indoors, so the environment can be controlled. A vertical farm could be in small or large towers, containers or greenhouses. Of course not all horizontal farms can be replaced by vertical ones, but especially for city dwellers it is an attractive alternative. Because getting food from out of a (big) city is quite a hassle and you lose freshness. From horizontal to vertical cultivation brings all kinds of technological challenges, if the Netherlands want to remain market leader in agribusiness, it is good to see how innovative companies like Own Greens work.

How does vertical farming work?

Step one is to get to the farm into the city. In empty buildings or on top of a supermarket, there is place to provide urban residents with fresh and sustainable food. Fresh, because it does not have to be transported in refrigerated containers for weeks or has to be shipped in roaring sea ships or polluting lorries. To grow food in a vertical farm you don’t need pesticides. Just cut your greens and carry it one floor down to the place where you sell exactly what the customer asks. A vertical farm can easily be a part of a modern supermarket. In Amsterdam you can already see the movement from citizens who want more rural, green life into the busy city. Townsfolk work on allotments and make rooftop gardens. 

Own Greens follows a completely different approach. You don’t even have to leave the house to get your greens. You can have your little farm at home! In 2015 it became abundantly clear that people are very interested in growing their own vegetables. Albert Heijn launched a campaign whereby people could save for little vegetable gardens. You could get any kind of vegetables: radish, cucumber and tomatoes where available and very, very popular. The next step is to bring a miniature farm to your house. What you need is firstly a plastic tray. Add water (for growth and flowering) and nutrition (in block or a form of a pill). In the middle of the box you put a roll of stone wool. In it you place the seed of the crop that you want to grow. Place several containers on top of each other, under and next to each other for more yield and put a plastic cap over them to prevent the plant from losing too much moisture and get pathogens. Place the whole in a simple cabinet and turn on the light. After that, just let the miracle unfold. A few weeks later the juicy lettuce or the spicy rocket will greet you and you will get the real outdoor feeling, but at home. Own Greens can provide you with a starter pack. 

In such a mini greenhouse you can create the circumstances to grow your perfect crop. You can even realize exactly a specific certain demand, because you can adjust the humidity, the heat, the CO2 in the air and of course the different spectra of the light. All those different circumstances have an impact on the taste of what you make. You can, for example, grow a 1950 basilicum, as if you have it freshly picked from a plant in Italy. Do you remember the taste of a cucumber back in your youth and can you find out what the circumstances were, back then? Make it grow in your own house!

In the next post we’ll write more about the meeting with Pieterse and Ruijter. Part two will be about the sustainability and the future for vertical farming. 

 

Photo: ReGen Villages proposal for vertical farming in greenhouses. (2018) Image owned by ReGen Villages and coming from: www.regenvillages.com.

Image slider: The six advantages of vertical farming. (2018) Image from: https://www.oliverwyman.com/

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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.

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