Browse Definitions:

vertical farming

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

Vertical farming is the practice of growing produce in vertically stacked layers. The practice can use soil, hydroponic or aeroponic growing methods. Vertical farms attempt to produce food in challenging environments, like where arable land is rare or unavailable. The method helps mountainside towns, deserts and cities grow different types of fruits and vegetables by using skyscraper-like designs and precision agriculture methods.

Most vertical farms use enclosed structures similar to greenhouses that stack vertically, either directly above each other or staggered for better natural light exposure. If saving space is of utmost importance, hydroponic methods as a growing medium instead of soil allow for reduced weight and lower water requirements by up to 70%.  The use of aeroponics further reduces weight and water requirements. Most vertical farms are either hydroponic or aeroponic and do not have run off, which would make the potted plants heavier.

Vertical farming typically uses a mix of natural light and artificial light. Artificial lighting is often LED-based and may be driven by a renewable power source such as solar power or wind turbines.

Supporters of vertical farming praise the impact it can have now and in the future to increase food security and have a positive impact on human health. It would reduce the amount of farmland needed, which could decrease deforestation and pollution, and help urban areas be self-sufficient.

Critics of vertical farming claim that most designs don’t efficiently deliver the necessary artificial light to keep the design green. Many vertical farms have hefty electric bills to produce good yields. Furthermore, the necessity for vertical farming is disputed as critics argue that the problem is not a lack of farmable land but inefficient usage.

This was last updated in May 2017

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Is vertical farming an important development or would it be better to make conventional farming more sustainable?


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