Skytop rice paddy graces one of the city’s tallest buildings
The Nation reports that the rooftop of a luxury skyscraper in Tokyo’s glamorous Roppongi Hills neighborhood has added a surprising feature. The Mori Tower is the fifth tallest building in Tokyo and houses office space, retail shops, a museum, and now, of all things, a rooftop rice paddy.
This project is just one of many taking root in the wake of Tokyo residents’ increased interest in urban farming. Agriculture is a longstanding component of Japanese cultural history. Citizens take great pride in their national product, as well as the traditional methods of preparation, such as pickling, foraging, and liquor making.
The building recently held its annual rice-planting event, after which it celebrated Japanese food culture with a homemade sake tasting and a selection of seasonal ingredients from Niigata Prefecture, all to rhythmic accompaniment by traditional taiko drummers.
The urban farming initiative represents a desire to bridge the widening gap between metropolitan and rural areas. While the organic and seasonal food movement has already been widely accepted, officials hope that new projects like the Mori Tower rice paddy will cement agricultural partnerships, and even encourage urban residents to develop relationships with farmers in their hometowns.
Urban Agriculture and City Region Food Systems: what and why
During the last ten years, sustainable urban agriculture and urban food systems have rapidly moved from being a ‘fringe interest’ to attracting the attention of policymakers and planners in many cities, both in developing and developed countries. Feeding our urbanising world has become an imperative, especially in light of the climate emergency, and city actors are increasingly responding to the challenge.
The (re-) introduction of productive landscapes into city design and development planning has been widely accepted, aligning with concepts like urban and peri-urban agriculture, rural-urban linkages and landscape development, urban food systems, and city region food systems.
Below we introduce some of the key concepts that we use and help to develop.
The food system is defined as “the whole array of activities, ranging from input distribution through on-farm production to marketing and processing, involved in producing and distributing food to both urban and rural consumers. The food system of an urban area includes all processes that food passes through, from its production over processing, transportation, retail, consumption to disposal of kitchen and table waste (incl. food waste) as well as all actors and institutions that influence these processes. This system is governed by the (global) market mechanisms, influenced by and embedded in the local, regional, national and international policy frameworks. Furthermore it is placed in different public domains, predominantly in agriculture, public health, environmental issues and the economy, but there are also other policy fields that are, in one way or another, related to food.” (Wiskerke, 2009).
A resilient food system is understood as: “A system that has the capacity over time to provide sufficient healthy, sustainable and fair food to all in the face of chronic stresses and acute shocks, including unforeseen circumstances […]. A resilient food system is robust (it can withstand disturbances without losing food security), has redundancy (elements of the system are replaceable and can absorb the effects of stresses and shocks), is flexible, can quickly recover lost food security and can adapt to changing circumstances.” (Carey et al, 2016). It is thus likely to have some of the following features:
- the capacity to monitor and address threats and reduce disaster risks in food systems, including impacts on natural (green) and human-made infrastructures, including other systems on which the food system depends (e.g. transportation, roads, fuel access, electricity grid, communications)
- the capacity to build resilience to impacts of shocks and stresses for vulnerable food systems actors (e.g. small-holder and family farmers, women, residents of informal settlements)
- a contribution to reducing greenhous gas (GHG) emissions
- support for effective land management and soil restoration, and protection of eco-system services
- diversified food supply chains that draw on large- and small-scale systems of food production and distribution, that use a variety of approaches to production and distribution, and that draw on both commercial and community-based sources, without being dependent on one source
- the capacity to draw on waste streams (wastewater, food waste and organic waste) for food production
- the capacity to create synergies and achieve multiple benefits across a range of policy objectives e.g. increasing access to healthy food, and creating jobs
- people-centred and inclusive – people are at the heart of the food system, benefiting from increased access to healthy, sustainable food and from employment, and engaging actively with the food system as citizen-consumers.
A city region is a given geographical region that includes one or more urban centres and their surrounding peri-urban and rural hinterland, across which people, food, goods, resources and ecosystem services flow.
A city region food system (CRFS) encompasses all food system actors and activities taking place in the city region and over which (several) local/regional governments have planning and intervention powers.
The CRFS approach, developed by RUAF and the FAO, aims to foster the development of resilient and sustainable food systems by strengthening rural-urban linkages. Throughout the food chain, an ideal CRFS fosters:
- Food security and nutrition for urban and rural dwellers.
- Livelihoods and economic development for all actors of the food chain and consumers.
- Sustainable natural resources management and minimized environmental impact.
- Social inclusion and equity of all actors of the food chain and consumers.
The CRFS toolkit, based on RUAF’s MPAP approach (see below), provides guidance on assessment of CRFS sustainability and resilience and policy planning.
RUAF and FAO are currently working on strengthening climate resilience and gender aspects of CRFS approach. With FAO and the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MUFPP), RUAF has developed a set of indicators CRFS indicator framework.
Urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA) or urban and peri-urban agriculture and forestry (UPAF) is defined as the growing of trees, food and other agricultural products (herbs, pot plants, fuel, fodder) and raising of livestock (and fisheries) within the built-up area or on the fringe of cities. UPAF includes production systems such as horticulture, livestock, (agro-) forestry and aquaculture and input supply, processing and marketing activities.
The most striking feature of urban agriculture is not its urban location but rather the fact that it is an integral part of the urban socio-economic and ecological system (Mougeot, 2000). It uses urban resources (land, labour and urban organic wastes), grows produce for urban citizens, is strongly influenced by urban conditions (urban policies and regulations, high competition for land, urban markets, prices, etc.) and impacts the urban system (having effects on urban food security and poverty, as well as on ecology and health).
The precise nature of urban agriculture varies from city to city and depends on the following dimensions:
- actors involved
- location (intra-urban or peri-urban on or off plot private or public, etc.)
- types of products grown (food products from different types of crops and animals, as well as non-food products).
- types of economic activities (production, processing and marketing, as well as inputs and services delivery
- product destination / degree of market orientation (self-consumption, market-oriented urban agriculture)
- scales of production and technology used.
Interest in UPA is triggered by recognition of its (potential) multiple co-benefits and contributions.
UPA provides a complementary strategy to:
- enhance urban food security
- reduce urban poverty
- promote social inclusion
- enhance urban environmental management, including productive reuse of urban wastes
- contribute to local economic development
- build food systems resilience.
Urban policy makers can substantially contribute to the development of safe and sustainable urban agriculture and food systems. They can, for example:
- create a conducive policy environment and formal acceptance of urban agriculture as an urban land use
- enhance access to vacant open urban spaces through the planning system and increase land tenure
- enhance the productivity and economic viability of urban agriculture by improving access of urban farmers to training, technical advice, and credit and supporting urban farmer organisations
- take measures that prevent/reduce health and environmental risks associated with urban agriculture, including sectoral coordination between health, agriculture and environmental departments, education and training.
Different policy perspectives are useful in designing alternative policy scenarios for the development of intra- and peri-urban agriculture:
- the social perspective, associated with subsistence oriented types of urban agriculture
- the economic perspective, particularly related to market oriented types of urban agriculture
- the ecological perspective, referring to types of urban agriculture that have a multi-functional character.
These three perspectives are not mutually exclusive. In practice, most policies on urban agriculture will be based on a mix of these perspectives, with different emphasis in different locations.
RUAF introduced the Multi-stakeholder Policy making and Action Planning (MPAP) approach.
Due to the cross-cutting and multi-dimensional nature of urban agriculture, policy development and action planning should involve various sectors and disciplines. Urban farmers, and the community organisations and NGOs supporting them, must be involved in the planning process. In particular, the urban poor should themselves participate in situation analysis, priority setting and action planning and implementation.
Such consultative processes will make the outcomes of policy development and action planning more robust, comprehensive, accepted and sustainable. Increasingly this is recognised and incorporated in urban planning approaches such as the multi-actor planning methodologies.
Grown from necessity: vertical farming takes off in ageing Japan
In Japan, vertical farming is taking offing as traditional methods face a double threat from the ageing population and migration towards the cities
The nondescript building on an industrial site near Kyoto gives little hint to the productivity inside: 30,000 heads of lettuce grow here daily, under artificial light and with barely any human intervention.
This "vegetable factory", using the latest vertical farming techniques, is part of a trend born out of necessity in Japan, where traditional farming faces a double threat from the ageing population and migration towards the cities.
With the average age of a farmer in Japan at 67 and few candidates to replace those dying out, the country has been forced to become a pioneer in so-called vertical farming.
Globally renowned firms such as Panasonic, Toshiba and Fujitsu have tried their hand—converting old semi-conductor production lines with varying levels of success.
One of the few companies to turn a quick profit, Spread produces 11 million heads of lettuce annually from its latest factory in Kyoto, a vast sterile area where the vegetables are stacked on shelves several metres high.
Machines shift the lettuces around the factory to areas where the light, temperature and humidity are ideal for that stage of growth. The process works without soil or pesticide, and only a dozen or so humans are employed to collect the lettuce at the end.In some facilities in Japan vegetables are grown stacked on shelves several metres high
Other countries have employed vertical farming techniques—notably in Denmark and the United States—but Japan's population crisis means the farmers are dying out, with question marks over how the world's third-biggest economy will feed itself.
"Given the lack of manpower and decline in agricultural production, I felt a new system was needed," Shinji Inada, Spread's boss, told AFP.
Spread has taken some time to make the process nearly fully automated: an older factory in Kyoto still employs several dozen humans to move the lettuce—a "difficult task", admits one staff member.
But the advantages are clear: "We can produce in large quantities and at a stable rate all year round, without being affected by temperature changes," said Inada.
"The other benefit is that we have few losses because our products are preserved for longer," added the vegetable tycoon.
Inada said the firm initially experienced some difficulty in selling the lettuce, but they have now grown a good brand by producing consistent quality at a consistent price—in a country where prices vary considerably depending on the season.
Spread's lettuce are found on supermarket shelves in Kyoto and the capital Tokyo and Inada has grand expansion visions to move production closer to where the vegetables are consumed.
The firm is building a factory in Narita near Tokyo and is eyeing further afield to countries where the climate is not suited for such agriculture. "We can easily export our production system to very warm or very cold climates to grow lettuce," said Inada.
But is this system environmentally friendly? Inada said he hesitated before launching the concept over this very question but finally reasoned the pros outweighed the cons.
"It's true that we use more energy compared to production using the sun, but on the other hand our productivity is higher over a similar surface area," he said.With the average age of a farmer in Japan at 67 and few candidates to replace those dying out, the country has been forced to become a pioneer in so-called vertical farming
The system allows the firm to produce eight crops of lettuce per year, irrespective of the season. Spread also uses significantly less water than traditional agricultural methods.
"I believe we are contributing to a sustainable agriculture for our society," claims Inada.
Japan already has around 200 lettuce factories using artificial light but the majority of these are small-scale but according to specialist consultancy group Innoplex, such factories will double in number by 2025.
And other companies are jumping on the smart-agriculture bandwagon, with Mitsubishi Gas Chemical building a factory in northeastern Fukushima that will produce 32,000 heads of lettuce daily.
Nor is its just lettuce: tomatoes and strawberries grown by computer under artificial light are on their way to a table near you.
Urban vegetable farm takes off in sheep and cropping region in Victoria
Edenhope is a small town in western Victoria not known for its lettuce. Rather, it is home to mostly cropping and sheep farmers.
But a new urban farming business is changing that.
Lucas King started his urban farm in March with a few plots in the middle of the country town.
"I'm trying to create a lifestyle where you're not only close to your family, but you're creating something healthy for your community and for yourself," he said.
Mr King said he had always wanted to start a farm like it, but was not sure how to do it.
"I've always been interested in living sustainably, but I didn't know exactly how that process would unfurl," he said.
"And I didn't really realise there was a way to make money out of it."
Then Mr King came across Curtis Stone, an American who calls himself "the urban farmer".
"Once I found out that these guys had a system in place that was profitable I basically said 'Yep, I'll do that' and copied it," he said.
"If you look at what someone like Curtis Stone is doing, he's making over $100,000 on a third of an acre."
Less than six months after Mr King started he is growing a multitude of lettuce varieties, radishes, coriander, beetroot, carrots and more.
He also has a small trial crop of broccoli growing.
Mr King said despite the fact the region was not known for those kinds of vegetables, the system he used made it easier to grow them.
"It's a bit easier when it's high intensity and it's small scale," he said.
"I've got row covers, a plastic tunnel that helps with germination, and I've got a sprinkler system for irrigation."
The local supermarket and coffee shop sells Mr King's produce, and he also takes it across the South Australian border to sell.
"I use a greens harvester which is basically a device that runs off a drill," he said.
"I basically run along with that and collect it and process it and the next day it's pretty much in the shops."
Mr King is planning to expand the range of vegetables he grows.
"It is winter. Once spring comes along we'll do tomatoes and other different types of crops," he said.
Urban Farming Takes To The Rooftops
With more focus being put on nutrition, fresh food, and supplying food to urban areas that often have large areas that qualify as “food deserts”(an area where grocery stores and access to fresh produce and meat is limited or otherwise restricted, often leaving convenience stores as the main source for grocery shopping), there has been a lot of effort put into the idea of urban farming.
Often times one of the problems with urban farming is simply finding the space in which to plant to the crops to begin with. Aside from empty lots, which may or may not be tied up in tax issues, or have owners who have other plans, one of the few spaces available in urban areas are the rooftops.
Urban gardens have been turning up on rooftops all over. Companies, hospitals, and other groups who have an interest in giving back to their communities have started to turn their roofs into gardens and greenhouses to try and provide at least some nutritional support to these in need.
In Cities across the U.S. there are some rather impressive rooftop urban farms, the largest of which is in Chicago, covering an impressive 75,000 sq feet and producing around 10 million heads of greens and herbs per year.
In Boston, another urban farm on the roof of the Boston Medical Center , not only produces fresh vegetables, but also has 2 beehives that produce honey.
Other urban farming techniques have a more direct benefit to those who want to go off grid. Methods like vertical farming can be applied almost anywhere and can still produce food even with fewer resources, light, and have faster turnarounds than traditional farming methods.
Urban farming 2.0: No soil, no sun
Co-founder of Big Box Farms co-founder Sam Miller-McDonald, inspecting a hydroponic lettuce crop, thinks indoor farming can be made more energy-efficient than traditional agriculture. By Jennifer Alsever, contributing writer December 23, 2010: 5:48 AM ET
(CNNMoney.com) -- Forget the conventional wisdom that says veggies must be grown on vast farms in the Midwest. What if commercial-scale crops took root inside cavernous city warehouses, without sunlight or soil?
Call it urban farming 2.0. Over the past decade, city agriculture has largely been the province of non-profit organizations, school groups, renegade gardeners and restaurants sowing seeds on rooftops. But the newest breed of city farmers are businessfolk. In their hands, urban agriculture is scaling up to meet a rising demand in city centers for safe, organic and locally grown food.
One such indoor farm opened in September in Vancouver, growing lettuce and spinach inside an 8,000-square-foot warehouse using a hydroponic system that replaces dirt and weather with peat moss plugs and circulated water. High-efficiency LED lighting hits plants grown on stacked shelves.
The Eco Spirit-branded lettuce operation -- which is owned by the local Squamish Nation tribe -- now supplies eight stores for Choices Markets, a natural foods chain in greater Vancouver. The tribe licensed the technology from TerraSphere Systems in Canada and plans to grow the Eco Spirit label into a larger brand of locally grown produce.
"It's clean, it's safe, it's good for the environment," says Nick Brusatore, technical director of Vancouver-based TerraSphere Systems, which started developing the indoor farming technology eight years ago. TerraSphere generated $4 million this year from equipment sales and technology licenses to organizations like the Squamish Nation. New indoor farms are slated for New York, New Jersey, Ontario and Rhode Island.
"The demand is there, without a doubt," says Brusatore. "We're going to produce food everywhere."
Finding empty space won't be a problem. America is littered with thousands of abandoned big box stores, a trend fueled by the sputtering economy. About 11% of commercial and industrial real estate nationwide remains empty -- double the vacancy rate of just four years ago, according to Reis Inc., which tracks real-estate data.
Finding buyers is also fairly easy. Large grocers, from Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500) to Whole Foods (WFMI, Fortune 500), have made selling locally grown food a priority in their stores.
"Urban agriculture is a growth industry," says Dickson Despommier, a Columbia University microbiology professor and author of The Vertical Farm. His book touts a vision for commercial-scale agriculture in high-tech greenhouses as high as 30 stories tall, with the footprint of an entire city block.
On the flip side: Critics worry that today's urban farm startups will be huge -- and short-lived -- energy hogs, brought down by electrical bills they can't afford.
"Scores of companies have tried to do this, even the big guys like General Mills 15 years ago," says Bruce Bugbee, a professor of crop physiology at Utah State University. "It's too expensive. People don't realize how much light it takes to grow plants."
But that won't stop entrepreneurs from trying. Jordan Motzkin, 22, of New York, has won grants from National Science Foundation and the College of the Atlantic for his startup, Big Box Farms, which finished testing a prototype in Maine and plans to open an indoor farm in an old Brooklyn warehouse early next year.
He expects the farm to grow millions of pounds of organic lettuce and basil. Motzkin then hopes to replicate it, first with farms in Chicago and Philadelphia, then elsewhere in the nation.
He plans to run the entire operation -- from indoor climate control to hydroponics and LED lighting -- remotely using iPhone applications. Big Box Farms is also working with Philips Electronics to test out their latest generation of LED lights, which are not yet available to the public. Motzkin says the new LEDs could make a big difference, improving energy efficiency by 40% to 60%.
"You're turning food into a factory scenario, where you can control the environment completely," says Chris Higgins, an industry consultant and owner of Hort Americas, a Dallas supplier of hydroponic growing systems. "They could get production 365 days a year, which would be a huge advantage. They're on the cutting edge."
They also yield more produce. Despommier says a stacked hydroponic operation might yield about 64 heads of lettuce per square foot annually, compared to about three heads at a traditional outside farm.
Another new company, Gotham Greens, will use hydroponics to grow everything from bok choy to basil in an enclosed rooftop greenhouse in the middle of Brooklyn. The company raised $2 million from investors and should finish the 15,000-square-foot greenhouse this spring, producing 40 tons of crops a year, most of which will be sold to a local Whole Foods store.
In San Francisco, Cityscape Farms plans to grow lettuce and herbs and raise fish in water-based aquaponics systems in greenhouses set up on urban rooftops and vacant lots.
Cityscape CEO Mike Yohay predicts that by eliminating transportation costs and fertilizer, a 10,000-square-foot greenhouse could produce $500,000 in profit and 20 to 30 tons of food a year for local supermarkets and corporate cafeterias.
Some investors, however, still aren't sold on the idea that indoor city farms can produce affordable food and carve out a big financial advantage over traditional farmers who may be just 60 to 100 miles away.
"We've seen half a dozen companies working on this," says Silicon Valley venture capitalist Paul Matteucci. "For the most part the quality of the product is excellent, but the costs are still too high."
But in Vancouver, Eco Spirit is optimistic. The indoor lettuce operation should generate $400,000 to $1 million in annual revenue, says Squamish Nation Chief Gibby Jacob. The tribe paid $2 million for the equipment and its franchise license from TerraSphere.
Since the produce began showing up in stores three months ago, consumers have literally eaten it up, says Mark Vickars, CEO of Choices Markets. They pay up to $5 for a 5.3-ounce container of the locally grown lettuce.
"The quality is excellent, the nutrient levels are high, the shelf life is long," Vickars says. "We're always trying to go local, and this gives us local 365 days a year."
Rooftop farming takes off in Singapore
ON the rooftop of a Singapore shopping mall, a patch of eggplants, rosemary, bananas and papayas stand in colourful contrast to the grey skyscrapers of the city-state’s business district.
The 10,000 square-foot site is among a growing number of rooftop farms in the country, part of a drive to produce more food locally and reduce reliance on imports.
The government has championed the push amid concerns about climate change reducing crop yields worldwide and trade tensions affecting imports, but it has been given extra impetus by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The common misconception is that there’s no space for farming in Singapore because we are land scarce,” said Samuell Ang, chief executive of Edible Garden City, which runs the site on the mall.
“We want to change the narrative.”
Urban farms are springing up in cities around the world, but the drive to create rooftop plots has taken on urgency in densely populated Singapore, which imports 90% of its food.
Farming was once common in the country, but dwindled as Singapore developed into a financial hub packed with high-rises. Now less than 1% of its land is devoted to agriculture.
In the past few years, however, the city has seen food plots sprouting on more and more rooftops.
Authorities last year said they were aiming to source 30% of the population’s “nutritional needs” locally by 2030, and want to increase production of fish, eggs, and vegetables.
With coronavirus increasing fears about supply-chain disruption, the government has accelerated its efforts, announcing the rooftops of nine car parks would become urban farms and releasing S$30 million (RM91 million) to boost local production.
Edible Garden City, one of several firms operating urban farms in Singapore, runs about 80 rooftop sites.
But they have also created many food gardens in more unusual places, including a former prison, in shipping containers, and on high-rise apartment balconies. Their farms use only natural pesticides such as neem oil to repel pests.
“What we really want is to spread the message of growing our own food. We want to advocate that you really do not need large parcels of land,” said the firm’s chief executive Ang.
The company grows more than 50 varieties of food, ranging from eggplants, red okra and wild passion fruit to leafy vegetables, edible flowers and “microgreens”, vegetables harvested when they are still young.
It is also using high-tech methods. At one site inside a shipping container, they are testing a specialised system of hydroponics – growing plants without soil – developed by a Japanese company.
The system features sensors that monitor conditions, and strict hygiene rules mean crops can be grown without pesticides.
Edible Garden City’s produce is harvested, packed and delivered on the same day – mainly to restaurants – but online customers can also subscribe to a regular delivery box of fruit and vegetables.
Sales to restaurants slowed when Singapore shut down businesses to contain the coronavirus from April to June, but Ang said household clients grew three-fold in the same period.
William Chen, director of the food, science and technology programme at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, said developing city farms was a “way to buffer the shock of supply chain breakdowns”.
“Skyscraper farming in Singapore is certainly a bright option,” he added.
Still, there are limits to what a country half the size of Los Angeles can achieve, and Chen stressed the city would still have to rely on imports of other staples, such as meat.
“We don’t have animal farms, and for rice we don’t have the luxury of land,” he said. “Growing rice and wheat indoors will be very costly, if not impossible.”
In addition, a lack of skilled farmers presents a challenge.
“While we are able to recruit people with an interest in farming, they do not have the relevant experience,” Ang said. – AFP-Relaxnews
Vertical farming takes off in former Wellington nightclub
Once nightclub goers used to bounce off the walls of a Wellington basement, but now it's been transformed into an urban market garden supplying over 80 restaurants.
The lights are still there, but the moody blues have been replaced by state-of-the-art multi coloured LED grow lights.
Shoots Microgreens is a start-up company growing tiny crops mainly for restaurants, but with some of the produce sold through stores such as Moore Wilson.
Microgreens are the intense flavoured first shoots and leaves, and are popular among chefs and bartenders for garnishing meals and cocktails. Many familiar leaves can be used as microgreens, including mustard, basil, rocket and coriander.
Co-owner Matt Keltie started the business last year and it now employs three fulltime workers, although it is yet to make a profit.
While ostensibly a hydroponic-style system, Shoots Microgreens is marketing itself as different to such common garden businesses that have been around for decades.
First, the location: vertical farms have sprung up in a number of major urban centres where the crops are grown close to where people consume them – in high rises, derelict buildings and abandoned warehouses – reducing carbon emissions and maximising unused spaces in cities.
"It's all about using an efficient production area, recycling water, and having a lower carbon footprint."
Secondly, the crops are grown without the need to cart in soil and spray the chemicals that conventional growers use to control animal pests, fungal diseases and weeds.
Thirdly, everything is recycled including the water and growing trays, and deliveries are made using e-bikes.
Keltie started the business in a garage before moving into a smaller space than where he is now. Once he had successfully realised the proof of concept and started to supply restaurants, he had enough confidence to launch the business.
The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (Eeca) helped with a $12,300 investment in the special LED grow lights.
Compared with traditional incandescent hydroponic lamps, the LEDs are cool to the touch, and can be frequency controlled to improve productivity – they grow the shoots around twice as fast as their halogen counterparts.
The LEDs conserve 45 per cent more lighting electricity, saving Keltie's business about $25,000 a year on its power bill.
With customisable spectrums of light, the colour of LEDs can be adjusted to optimise the growth of each specific variety of microgreens. As they do not produce heat, they can be stacked at every vertical layer, with no risk of heat damaging plants, as with incandescent hydroponic lamps.
Every day chefs order their microgreens and are delivered or collected.
The non-soil medium the plants are grown in is a trade secret, although Keltie is planning on moving to a hemp-based medium once it becomes available.
Keltie says the taste of the microgreens is governed by the light applied to the plants – the lights are one component but managing and changing a lone or all components of the growing system influences the plants.
"When I take two trays of the same plants grown under different numbers of bulbs, some chefs can tell me how they've been grown because there's a subtle difference in flavour. It's all about the mix of water and lights.
"Not only do the LEDs provide the right growing spectrums, they are hellishly efficient in terms of power."
A supplier provides the fertiliser in the right sorts of ratios but Keltie is starting to test which plants take up which nutrients, so he can apply a specific rather than a broad spectrum mix. For example, peas do not require much nitrogen.
He admits there has been a lot of trial and error in the start-up period.
"When people say how far down the track are you with your learning, I say about 5 per cent, I've still got a solid 95 per cent left to learn. But we hope to start soon in Auckland, once we've ironed out the issues here."
Prices start at $7.25 for a tray of peas, which grow in a little over a week, whereas slower growing red sorrel is priced accordingly higher.
Capitol Restaurant owner-chef Tom Hutchison says he buys the microgreens every day.
"It's good that they're doing well, the product is fantastic."
Hutchison is not so much a fan of the very young greens, preferring the more mature, larger leaves.
Eeca technology innovation manager Dinesh Chand worked with Keltie to help get the project off the ground.
"This project not only shows potential for LEDs to reduce electricity use and increase productivity, but is a great example of reducing transport-related emissions. In this case, supplying locally eliminates the equivalent annual carbon emissions of taking 20 cars off the road."
Vertical farming can save up to six times the ground space that conventional farming uses. Keltie said it was not a replacement for traditional New Zealand farming yet, but was part of its future.
Eeca chief executive Andrew Caseley said the authority's intention in running the Gen Less campaign was to mobilise New Zealanders to be world leaders in clean and clever energy use.
Companies that have already joined Gen Less, include Westpac, Countdown, New Zealand Post, Stuff, Wishbone Design, Ecostore, Lewis Road, and Ethique.
"Less" refers to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from energy use. People could join the campaign by walking their children to school, switching to a more efficient car such as an EV, buying sustainable goods and services, and using LED bulbs, he said.
3 thoughts on &ldquo Economic Viability of Vertical Farming: Overcoming financial obstacles to a greener future of farming &rdquo
Krista, this is so fascinating! With the DukeImmerse about food last semester, we discussed indoor/vertical farming a little bit and I definitely found myself on the ‘pro’ side of the argument. As you articulate very well, vertical farming gives us so much potential for high-efficiency food production. In fact, I wonder if there is a way to decrease the necessity of LEDs by building these “farms” in a way that allows as much sunlight in as possible. I’m also curious if we could reduce land costs by building these more in suburbs rather than in urban centers. The one concern that a government official in the Central Valley of CA brought up to us was that the land formerly used for conventional farming would more-than-likely be converted into residential or commercial buildings or other impervious surfaces. Currently, farms in the outskirts of suburban areas already do so much to reduce flood risk and by eliminating them, potential damage would be even higher. That said, though, if there were a way to ensure the conversion of this land into forest, I would be so excited about this technology! The one other aspect of vertical farming that I struggle with is that I love how much different regions take ownership over certain products and I find seasonality to be such a beautiful thing in food. Vertical farming would certainly reduce or eliminate these things, but it is nice to have a mango in December that only travelled a few miles!
I think it is interesting to think about the political and lobbying power that big agriculture has and how that could effect the transition to vertical farming. You laid out the costs and benefits really nicely along with our country’s need to adopt more innovative methods of farming and the obstacles that are in place. I think another facet of this topic is also taking into account the power that large broadacre farms have and how this could be another obstacle and could impact legislation and funding that support vertical farming innovations.
Is there any research into “home” vertical farming systems? It would be interesting to see that, if the systems exist at an affordable price, if city dwellers in apartments would begin to utilize these systems in their own apartments. While this isn’t the exact problem addressed, it would be something interesting to look into.
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Urban Farming Model Takes Off In Boston Suburb
Canney, a resident of the Boston suburb of Needham, MA, noticed that most of the yard space in her neighborhood was being used to grow lawns. Interested in pursuing her dream of farming, she started talking to friends about converting some of this valuable private outdoor space to food production.
The idea caught on, and neighbors approached her with requests to convert their lawns into viable vegetable gardens. Thus The Neighborhood Farm was born.
Currently farming two thirds of an acre across six different gardens (plus a 3 acre field) within a 15-minute driving loop of one another, Canney grows a wide variety of herbs, cut flowers and vegetables without synthetic pesticides, diversifying each plot and rotating crops from year to year.
Neighbors who donate their land receive credit at The Neighborhood Farm's local farmer's market locations and fresh produce from their own backyards.