Food insecurity is on the rise as the world becomes increasingly populated. The trend of increasing urbanization has led to food insecurity in densely populated areas. As threats such as global warming and accessibility issues rise, more people are paying attention to sustainability practices. Lead scientists have developed many solutions, such as vertical farming and soilless food production, that are beginning to take root and spread across the globe.
What is vertical farming?
Vertical farming is an umbrella term that encapsulates any production of food by structures that take up both horizontal and vertical space. This three-dimensional advancement is plausible by the selective use, flow, and control of water and nutrients required by the plants. The following systems are the current leaders in the world of vertical and urban farming.
- Hydroponics is a farming method that uses water as the main source of nutrient uptake in plants. Commonly hydroponic systems require water, a nutrient-rich solution containing nutrients commonly essential for plant growth (e.g. nitrogen, phosphorus, etc.), and artificial light. Hydroponic systems can be as small as an appliance that fits on a kitchen counter to as large as a warehouse made to produce food for the market.
- Aeroponics is similar but adds the twist of misting the roots instead of keeping the roots in the water. Aeroponics was developed by NASA in the 90’s to provide possible ways of growing food in space. There is also research that suggests that aeroponically grown plants are more nutritious and require less resources to grow than the already efficient hydroponic systems.
- Lastly, there is the aquaponics method that goes back to having the roots rest in water most of the time, but attempts to solve the problem of producing a nutrient rich solution by adding fish to the water tank. The waste produced by the fish works as a source of nutrients that can dissolve into the water and be taken up by the plants. This sustainability-focused approach then also adds a source of meat to be farmed as well as the produce made above the water.
Today, multiple worldwide crises are interconnected with food production and accessibility. Many of the issues have gained international attention (e.g. global warming) and have pushed countries to target these issues with high priority. On the other hand, some of these great problems remain ignored due to complex social and political factors (e.g. starvation, food insecurity, malnutrition). The following crises are closely related to the increased interest in urban farming.
Vertical Farming reduces the consumption of resources such as freshwater, minerals, and energy. The system can also be specifically developed and controlled based on the produce grown to reduce those requirements even further. Additionally, the organic waste produced by the city can be put to use by the vertical farms nearby. Many even expect a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution due to the increased greenery.
Food Insecurity and Malnutrition
Urban agriculture is seen as a practical way to address food insecurity in cities. It increases accessibility in both a physical and financial manner by bringing the farm to the city and depending less on distant food sources. With the technological advancements that come with vertical farming, cities might also be able to see seasonal food year-round or even see new access to foods that require extreme climate conditions. With the ability to control the conditions of the farms, vertical farmers have the control to provide more than what is available via the traditional method.
Land and Space Consumption
Urban agriculture requires less horizontal space by building up instead of across. By use of stacks, towers, and shelving, vertical farming combats the large land requirement and allows farms to be found in warehouses or even on the rooftops of grocery stores where they will be sold once harvested.
Although the crises that threaten the well-being of the planet and its habitants are still a very concerning priority, vertical farming does seem to have promising advantages. The methods described above aren’t perfected and require more work, but the field is expanding and more companies are expecting to utilize the new vertical farming systems to make food a little more accessible. You can find vertical gardening in East Quad and Bursley Dining Hall on campus. There is also a freight farm located in Ann Arbor at the campus farm. These not only respond to the urban food insecurity crisis, but also to the increasingly problematic environmental and global climate crises.