What is vertical farming?

Vertical farming is a state of the art technology derivative of a broader practice called urban farming.

Vertical Farming

It is defined as the process to adequate small and urban portions of land for raising crops, small livestock, and production of medicine. It has both commercial and self-sustaining purposes. These portions of land range from small recipients, complete orchards to even building terraces.

Specifically, vertical farming is considered a combination of the popular hanging gardens, the well-known “green walls”, and the modern advances in urban farming. The crops are stacked in vertical structures with a controlled environment similar to those found in greenhouses. Innovation in this particular field could be an alternative for third-world cities that struggle with the reduction of suitable land for agrarian purposes, increase in prices, and food hazards.

The concept was conceived by Dickson Despommier in United States in 1999. Hanging gardens were developed in Babylon in the second century B.C. and its modern application started with the work of Brazilian artist Robert Burle in the 1930’s and French botanist Patrick Blanc in 2012. They innovated on the concept of creating landscape architecture and gardening activities

Ken Yeang is a well-known Malaysian architect that works on bio-climatic buildings destined for food production in Asia. There are vertical farming projects being developed by the University of Columbia and Cambridge, as well as empirical projects in Wyoming and Buffalo (New York). Countries such as Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, United Kingdom, Germany, United States, Canada, and the Arab Emirates use this technique to build farmscrapers in order to decrease the general cost of production, guarantee food safety, and take full advantage of the urban perimeter.

In Latin America, countries like Colombia and Argentina are venturing into urban and vertical farming to improve their technology and expand their crops production. A Panamanian company called Urban Farms created the first vertical farm in the region, innovating in what is commonly called “accurate agriculture”.

There has been several successful attempts of the vertical model in Bogota called “urban modules of vertical orchards” in order to save physical space and avoid transportation fees of products caused by the distance between the farmlands and the urban perimeter. Bogota’s Botanic Garden is a pioneer structuring vertical farming systems in Colombia.

Some critics of the project have stated that this technique could be flawed in terms of energy use due to the excessive consumption of electricity and fossil fuels, since the transportation fees that vertical farmers may save would then have to be applied to sustain the buildings and crops. This implies that the vertical farming business could not be as profitable as it’s supposed to be and that more greenhouse gas emissions maybe produced due to the energy consumption.

The promoters of the vertical farming movement think the issue will become, principally, an issue of physical space. The creator of vertical farming forecasts that by the year 2050 an 80% of the planet’s population will have migrated towards big cities and a portion of fertile territory the size of Brazil will be needed to produce enough food for said metropolis.

Currently, 80% of suitable farmland is in use and 15% has been laid to waste by poor management practices. These predictions suggest that alternative agriculture processes are required to mitigate the imminent risk. Vertical and urban farming could be considered as one of those alternative processes which may include potential benefits, such as, increased crops production, urban growth, exponential improvement of public health, and protection from weather-related issues.

LatinAmerican Post | Juan Felipe Guerrero C.
Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto

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