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The sky is the limit for vertical farming

By Miranda Lu and Michelle Qiao Mar. 17, 2021


Beomhee Kim Art


In 2015, high school friends Andrew Hare and Matt Daniels founded indoor farming company Vertical Roots, hoping to bring fresh and healthy produce to their community and create jobs for local farmers. Vertical Roots is now one of the leading farms of its kind in the nation, integrating agriculture and technology for crop cultivation.

The South Carolina-based startup practices controlled-environment agriculture (CEA)—an intensive form of indoor plant cultivation that uses technology to optimize growing conditions. Inside the facilities of Vertical Roots, temperature, light, water and nutrients are regulated using a CEA technique known as vertical farming, where crops are grown in vertically stacked layers and nutrient-enriched water, rather than soil.

Known as hydroponics, the soilless cultivation of crops has several advantages compared to traditional farming methods. Non-profit organization Green Our Planet reports that hydroponics use 90 percent less water, increase production by up to 10 times, produce crops that are more nutritional and allow crops to grow twice as fast compared to traditional agriculture. The technique also provides a solution to the ongoing loss of agricultural land. According to media company The Balance Small Business, the world has lost one-third of its arable land in the past 40 years due to urbanization, erosion and industrial development. Since CEA methods allow crops to grow without soil, maximize limited farming space and accelerate plant growth, they present a possible alternative to traditional agricultural practices. Beyond providing local produce, vertical farming could help increase food production and contribute to feeding the growing world population, which is expected to exceed 9.7 billion by 2050.

Because of its versatility, vertical farming can be implemented anywhere with the right equipment, including urban areas, significantly cutting down on the distance food needs to travel before reaching consumers.

Hydroponics has helped Vertical Roots save 98 percent more water than their previous conventional systems. Because of its versatility, vertical farming can be implemented anywhere with the right equipment, including urban areas, significantly cutting down on the distance food needs to travel before reaching consumers. Vertical Roots, which specializes in lettuce, claims that their local urban farming centers on the East Coast remove the need for thousands of miles of transportation; the lettuce they grow would have otherwise needed to be shipped from the other side of the country in states like California and Arizona.

“It is great that Vertical Roots is growing crops using hydroponics since it is more efficient than traditional farming and very beneficial to the environment. Hopefully, the company’s actions can inspire other farms to be more sustainable and change the way they grow food,” Sophomore Maya Chivakula said.

Currently, agriculture company AeroFarms in New Jersey is using aeroponics—another vertical farming technique that relies on misting plant roots to stimulate growth—to produce food. It grows over 800 types of crops and sells its fresh produce through Dream Green, the company’s own retail brand. In 2019, it was recognized in TIME’s annual list of 100 Best Inventions, and co-founder and CEO David Rosenberg stated that the company is continuing to work on improving quality, reducing the operating costs of their technology and growing healthy, dependable and nutritious food.

“As the population grows, it will become increasingly difficult for traditional farms to consistently provide food. With future development, vertical farming could become a viable option of mass producing things like fruits and vegetables,” Sophomore Soojin Lee said.

...critics of vertical farming argue that it actually uses more energy input than traditional farming, which could reverse the sustainable benefits the technique offers

However, critics of vertical farming argue that it actually uses more energy input than traditional farming, which could reverse the sustainable benefits the technique offers. CEA systems use artificial lighting and require complex machinery, which has both high upfront costs and operating expenses. Meanwhile, urban agriculture may compete with rural agriculture. Without the government piloting clear strategies and programs, the transition to CEA could hurt existing agriculture industries and families that rely on agriculture for income. Additionally, some argue that the technology is not mature enough to be executed on a large scale.

Although vertical farming is relatively new, the industry is already growing rapidly.

While a shift to vertical farms like AeroFarms and Vertical Roots that rely on advanced technology and large facilities may be unfeasible in the short term, small scale changes made by communities and individuals like Sophomore Cindy Zhuang, who owns a personal home garden. Individuals can also buy food locally, shop for organic foods and start private or community gardens—all of which reduce their carbon footprint.

“Sustainability is big in my family. We have a garden in our backyard where we grow our own produce. It is a rewarding experience that more people should try to support the environment with their food choices,” Zhuang said.

Although vertical farming is relatively new, the industry is already growing rapidly. Strategy consulting firm Global Market Insights reports that its market size surpassed $3 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach $22 billion by 2026. As more companies adopt Vertical Roots’ mission to implement dependable farming systems, grocery stores could soon experience a shift toward cleaner produce. If both corporations and consumers commit to sustainability, vertical farming and other alternatives could bring agriculture to an entirely new level of both productivity and efficiency.

 

About the Contributors

Miranda Lu

Staff Writer


Miranda Lu is a sophomore at Leland High School and a staff writer. She enjoys hiking, reading, and watching movies in her free time.










Michelle Qiao

Staff Writer


Michelle Qiao is a sophomore at Leland High School and a staff writer. She loves to play volleyball and spends her free time reading, drinking coffee and watching Pixar movies.

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