Water clever way to grow vegetables!

By Lauren Hoskin

A new form of farming could soon be making its way to our cities. This farming technique requires little fertiliser, few pesticides and not a single field. This is the growth of vertical farming.

In a world with a predicted population of 9 billion by 2050 and increasing concerns over climate change, our current farming practices are deemed impractical. Vertical farms give us the opportunity to make use of derelict buildings, whilst freeing up previously cultivated land to support wildlife and absorb carbon dioxide.

The idea is that plants can be grown in large multi-storey buildings, stacked on top of one another to further increase the space. Hydroponic systems then pump nutrient infused water directly past the roots, maximising the quantity that reaches the plant and recycling it back into the system to minimise waste.

Vertical Farm

Because the whole system is entirely self-contained, these farms suffer from few pests. For this reason the use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides is kept to a minimum. Soil erosion is also not an issue since the plants’ roots can be anchored in other highly permeable substances such as clay aggregate.

Additionally, food miles can be drastically reduced since the aim is to supply the local city residents directly. This means even more kale for your carbon!

Many such facilities already exist, including the world’s first low carbon vertical farm in Singapore, Sky Greens. Here they use hydraulic water driven systems to grow tropical vegetables in an urban area. The company boasts that the system uses minimal land, energy and water resources and that the veg grown at their facility comprises some 7 per cent of local consumption.

However, since crops growing in the centre of the building will not get as much access to natural light, the biggest challenge is ensuring they receive adequate light at the smallest cost to the environment. It is clear that growing plants illuminated by fossil fuel derived energy is not the most eco way to produce our food. This means building renewable energy sources big enough to supply a whole vertical farm.

One clever solution to this problem is to use wastewater from the surrounding city which can be treated to separate the solids. Solid waste can then be incinerated to produce energy whilst the water is used for hydrating the plants. The by-products of waste incineration, heat and carbon dioxide can be put to further use since the plants require both to grow.

With vertical farms beginning to pop up all over the world and many architectural plans for one in London, a dream could soon become a reality.