What Is Urban and Vertical Farming?First coined by American geologist Gilbert Bailey in 1915, the term vertical farming was initially a practical solution to a lack of sustainable soil by growing up instead of out. In 1999, Dickson Despommier, a professor at New York's Columbia University, popularized the modern idea of vertical farming. ut indoor growing and vertical farming really gained momentum when recreational cannabis use was legalized in Colorado in 2014, where frigid winter temperatures prevented year-long growth.
Because indoor, vertical growers can control environmental conditions using agricultural technology, it's ideal for growing crops in areas that otherwise would have to be reliant on long-haul trucking. Since crossing state lines is prevented by current cannabis legislation, this highlighted the need for localized solutions.
Urban farming, as the name suggests, refers to the practice of cultivating crops in densely populated areas. While it may sound contradictory at first, urban farming is an increasingly popular model for small commercial growers seeking to provide produce to the very doorstep of consumers. Urban farming happens in forgotten or underutilized spaces: rooftops, for example, as well as on vacant lots. Urban agriculture can happen indoors in vertical gardens. It can be done using self-contained kits that deliver maximum yield on minimum space, or it can happen in recycled shipping containers, which can be purchased pre-outfitted with a variety of growing technologies.
Urban and vertical farming combined can be an eco-friendly alternative to traditional agriculture, delivering high yields on less land while consuming fewer resources. It's less water-intensive, less nutrient-dependent. Growing urban means you can be closer to the consumers, which helps satisfy the increasing desire for locally grown products.
There's a potential social benefit, as well. Urban and vertical growing can help address the phenomenon of food deserts, city spaces where residents lack fresh produce, and other staples. By growing where the people live, urban farmers help close this gap.
"Urban agriculture contributes to local economic development, poverty alleviation, the social inclusion of the urban poor and women, and the greening of the city and the productive reuse of urban wastes," one study found.
Technology's Role in Urban and Vertical Farming
Technology can play a crucial role in making agriculture a viable option for those who live in an urban environment. Here are three tech-driven solutions that are making urban farming more accessible:
- Vertical farming can be done indoors, with technological aids used to control critical environmental factors. By growing up and creating acreage in a series of stacked platforms, farmers can maximize yield. Hydroponics and LED lighting help plants to thrive. At the same time, sensors and monitors for moisture, nutrients, light, and temperature all combine to make a tiered planting system a compelling option for those looking to grow in urban spaces.
- Shipping containers offer another diplomatic means to improve in the city, where outdoor space may be limited or unavailable. At standard shipping container provides ample room for a modest commercial enterprise, with the possibility of expansion built-in: When it's time to scale up, add another box. As an indoor operation, container farming relies on a range of technological controls. App-based systems can be integrated into the box to deliver irrigation and nutrients on a set schedule, giving the farmer the ability to control environmental conditions remotely.
- Mini farms or farm kits offer another easy way for a farmer to implement or expand upon an urban grow. Available in various sizes, farm kits typically have a small footprint and self-contained technological controls for environmental management.
Whatever form they may adopt, most urban farmers rely on some version of controlled-environment agriculture. The term applies broadly to the sensors, remote controls, and app-based interfaces that enable agriculture in what might be considered challenged or constrained environments. In this sense, technology is a crucial enabler, providing critical tools for making urban and vertical farming possible.
Powered by technology, urban farming is bringing agriculture closer to the consumer, reducing the carbon footprint of the farm while simultaneously satisfying the rising call for locally grown goods.