The term “vertical farming” was originally coined in 1915, but had not achieved widespread popularity, that is, until now. Stacking rows of plants in greenhouses and using artificial light while careful moderating water and nutrient inputs is the future of sustainable agriculture, and it is catching on presently. The innovative ag-tech firm PlantLab (http://www.plantlab.nl/) recently began construction of a $22-million, 200,000-square-foot headquarters, including multiple plant production units (PPUs) and research units.
PlantLab’s goal is to produce an equal quantity of high-quality agricultural products in the space of a city block as that grown on a sprawling farm, while consuming far fewer resources. PPUs require only 10% of the water used in traditional farming, and with no runoff, is exceedingly efficient and environmentally sound. Plants are protected from weather extremes, pests and disease reducing, if not eliminating the need for large amounts of pesticides and fertilizers. Additionally, vertical farms can be located in urban, suburban or rural communities, providing fresh, local produce year-round.
Vertical PPUs afford considerable energy, transportation and resource savings and are not cost prohibitive to construct. A 500,000-square-foot facility with 10 growing levels about 5 feet apart may cost approximately $100 million, this includes the land and construction costs. The resulting farm would employ over 200 people who would work in capacities such as seeding, growing, harvesting, packaging, sales, logistics, maintenance, and management. This facility could supply 50,000 people with their daily requirement of fresh herbs, vegetables, berries for about 10 years, all produced in a space smaller than the average multi-story parking lot. While this may still seem pricey, when one considers the benefits of healthy food produced locally, available at an affordable price…they appear to outweigh the costs.