MARILYN FREEMAN − I am no farmer. I can barely get veggies to grow in my backyard. But I do read science fiction and have been intrigued by tales of vertical farming in cities. Well, reality is catching up to sci fi. Perhaps the future of farming is where herbs, salads and soft fruits are grown year-round in vast, indoor plant factories. It’s happening right now outside of Bristol UK, the home of the world’s largest vertical farm situated in an old forge.
Imagine a scenario in which, within 10 years, the UK could be growing all its salad leaves, herbs and soft fruits indoors on multi-storied shelves. Goodbye greenhouses and imports?
Farming this way allows for more land available for trees – or homes. The nutrient-rich water washing the plant roots is used up to 30 times. No pesticide runoff and no need for herbicides or pesticides because the plants are indoors.
Stacking plants above one another on shelves and growing them in consistent and optimized conditions 365 days a year also means that, in theory, every square metre of land is more productive, compared to conventional farms.
However, as of 2020, there were only about 75 acres (30 hectares) of vertical farms operating in the world. The key challenge is the electricity powering lights, heaters, humidifiers etc.
The UK company in operation now, Jones Food Company, is aiming to solve this problem with renewable energy. The plan is to cover the entire roof with solar panels and place a wind turbine on neighbouring land.
Another company, LettUs Grow, is developing aeroponic growth methods. The plant’s roots are sprayed with a very fine mist of nutrient solution, rather than standing them in it as with hydroponics.
Farmers can and often must be very creative. “All” they need is some venture capital, policy changes and some folks willing to change old, expensive and damaging practices.
One farmer in Alberta, Gary Lewis who farms near Pincher Creek AB, is one such person. After diving deeply into plant science, he developed a machine that captures the CO2 emissions from his diesel tractor and puts it back into the soil. Then he sent out the seeds from his crops to be analyzed. It’s working and it’s saving him money and having positive environmental effects.
As I read about these almost sci fi advancements, I wonder where the creativity is in Peterborough? I can definitely imagine a vertical farm on land that is too expensive to mitigate due to past industrial degradation. How about you?
Marilyn Freeman is a retired adult educator, passionate cyclist, avid reader and a hit & miss gardener.
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