Our planet is growing short on farm land, water and ways to manage crops assaulted by disease and fickle weather changes. One way to answer the question of how we will manage our food production in the future is to alter the way we think about the traditional farm and create new ways to meet food demands. One of the most fascinating new ways of achieving this goal is a clever concept called vertical farming. This efficient alternative to flat land agriculture is practical, logical and attracting fans across the globe. You might say that vertical farming is the personification of the old adage: "What goes up, must come down." All due respect to Isaac Newton, in this case, the down would be an efficient drop of farm-fresh produce directly onto your dinner plate.
Projections for the world's agricultural future are bleak and dramatic. In less than 50 years, 80% of all humanity will live in cities. According to federal agricultural sources backed by NASA-generated images from space, we are already using more than 80% of the viable land on the planet to feed inhabitants. As climate changes further impact vulnerable farmland, and as temperature changes and unreliable water sources affect our ability to grow food efficiently, it has become incumbent upon scientists to devise ways to ensure our future food supply. These collaborations have resulted in a radical idea that makes sense and offers a plethora of benefits. They call it vertical farming.
Imagine yourself living in a high-rise building and wanting to grow your own veggies. If you have a terrace or balcony, starting a container garden -- a popular choice for those with a green thumb and little space -- could be the answer to accomplishing your goal. Now, imagine yourself in charge of feeding not just yourself but an entire community -- all from crops grown on your terrace. Sound impossible? It's not if you imagine entire floors of your building packed with growing produce. On each floor, densely planted crops spread across floors horizontally, creating a tower of vegetation.
The benefits of vertical farming are endless. Plant vertically and you can grow the same number of crops per acre as today's farmer does in from four to six outdoor acres. Weather and worms? No worries. A vertical garden is all but immune from outside influences because water is tightly controlled and the soil used to support crops is free of bugs and pests. Water systems engineered for vertical farming are pure efficiency -- pipes feed plants on all of the farm's levels, tightly controlling the amount that's disbursed for maximum effects, then the water enters a complex systems of drains and returns so it can be recycled. Every inch of a vertical farm is designed to keep plants healthy and thriving and if you are a fan of composting, the vertical farm offers an efficient environment for concentrating and recycling waste. Harvesting is a snap. Forget about tractors and other fuel-driven farm machinery because vertical farm design includes ways to weed and harvest using low maintenance machines and plenty of human labor.
According to proponents of the vertical farm concept, one can launch an enterprise just about anywhere. A typical unit can be erected, hooked up and operational in a short period of time using prefabricated infrastructure and starter plants. Vertical farms are designed to be built adjacent to water sources, so potential conflict over water rights for irrigation purposes would be a non-issue. Vertical farms situated in heavily populated urban areas have the ability to offer ultra-fresh produce on a consistent basis. Finally, energy and quality savings resulting from vertical farms are amazing. Time-consuming shipping deadlines that can threaten the viability of perishable goods are all but eliminated -- as are shipping costs incurred during the importation process.
The world is already experiencing pockets of hunger in third world countries and the potential for the western world to suffer the same fate is strong. With around 60% of humanity currently concentrated in urban areas, it has become apparent that traditional farms cannot keep up with growing demand - especially when droughts, floods and temperature extremes are capable of doing Herculean damage in a short amount of time. The problem of feeding the public in efficient, sensible and ecologically-wise ways is at hand and few remedies are as filled with potential as is the vertical farming industry.