Tuesday, June 11, 2013

--> Noel Laporte
Biological Diversity and Sustainability
May 29th 2013
Jessica Green
Vertical Farming: A local push towards a more sustainable agricultural alternative.
One of the greatest problems our generation will be faced with will be the challenge of having to feed an ever-growing global population sustainably, without continuing to degrade our environment. With increasing demand for agriculture production on both the regional and global scale methods for agriculture cultivation need to be picked wisely. Agriculture cultivation takes not only time but also requires massive amounts of converted land for crop development. Crop cultivation affects biomes, chemical cycling, and biodiversity on a global scale. Current practices of agriculture production are on the whole not sustainable and continue to degrade our planet each day. Our environment can only buffer so much damage before ecosystem disturbances cause massive species loss and ecosystem collapse. Habitat fragmentation, deforestation, and the rise of monoculture farming are just a few aspects of agriculture production that cause negative environmental impacts. These impacts include, harmful runoff, species loss and increased release of greenhouse gases in the environment. Our land, atmosphere and bodies of water are all impacted by current agriculture land use and production. Current technologies and farming techniques are available to grow and harvest agriculture sustainably, in an urban setting.
Figure 1:

Vertical farming is a new agriculture technique where a building is converted to a three to four story indoor farm, which utilizes hydroponics, fluorescent lighting and temperature control to maximize crop yield in a very short amount of time. Vertical farming incorporates a closed environment to increase crop yield in a shorter time span than classical farming techniques. Vertical farms can conserve limited water supplies as well as lower green house gas emission.  As one article states, "Chives, herbs and leafy greens are grown in hydroponic systems that completely submerge plant roots in water without using soil (Figure 1.) The plants get their nutrients from the water, which is continuously pumped between their roots and adjacent fish tanks full of tilapia. Suspended in a nutrient solution, little to no soil is needed for the vertical farming technique. Their byproduct is used to organically fertilize the agriculture, while the plants naturally clean the fish tanks. Both products, fish and vegetable, are later sold at farmers' markets. (Owen et al. 2012)" This is a closed loop system can create 30 times greater productivity per square foot than a greenhouse. An urbanized farming technique like this could be utilized to provide local, inexpensive and highly sustainable agriculture for urban cities (Figure 2). It is estimated that with current growth rates 80% of the human population will live in urban centers by 2050. Increasing agriculture demand could pose a huge problem associated with human population growth. Currently agriculture can travel thousands of miles to get from fields it is grown in to your typical store and dining room table. By urbanizing farming to large, technologically advanced warehouses it is possible to grow crops year round never traveling more than 25 miles from the market.
Figure 2:
Vertical Farm Tour - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kqIQUdZweU
 TEDxWindyCity -- Dickson Despommier -- The Vertical Farm - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIdP00u2KRA

These farms do not contribute to pesticide usage, soil degradation or runoff. Ehrenberg et al. states, "What happens outside is lightning bolts strike; there are floods, pests, drought, you can control everything indoors. You can't control anything outdoors. (Ehrenberg et al. 2008)" Farms do not need pesticides due to the absence of pests in the closed warehouse environment and can operate with 93 percent less water than traditional farming techniques. This eliminates hazardous run-off, dangerous chemicals being leeched into the environment and destructive land conversion for farmland. Increased vertical land use reduces the land required for classical farming techniques. Building up greatly reduces the habitat destruction currently experienced from growing out. Lawrence, a supporter of vertical farming states, “Growing food in the asphalt jungle could help return stability to an easily perturbed agriculture sector, one where increased demand for a single crop, such as corn, is felt from movie theaters to hog farms. Urban farming enhances a city's ability to deal with hazards and disasters. (Despommier et al. 2011)”
Figure 3:

One major and real downside of vertical farming is the energy usage from the LED and florescent lights used for the agricultural cultivation (Figure 3). Although currently there is great energy usage from the florescent lights used in vertical farms research is enthusiastic in its ability to develop ways to minimize energy usage. Shelby Phillips, a vertical farmer states, "Farms plan to utilize an anaerobic digester to gather waste such as left-over plant roots to generate power.(Couch et al. 2011)" Once the digester is fully installed, the plant hopes its annual yield of 5,000 tons of bio-waste will be successful in fully powering the system.  With increased LED efficiency for maximizing plant growth and reducing electrical fees I believe vertical farms with show great promise within the next decade. Another downside to be considered is the spread of disease within the system. Growing one crop in massive amounts in a closed environment could be decimated if disease develops in either the crops or the fish that filter the water. Possibly by growing a variety of crops or having a variety of fish in the water tanks could reduce the risks of pathogen development securing the crops health.         
 Supplying cities with a reliable and local food supply reduces environmental impacts from traditional farming techniques and eliminates the need for large-scale agricultural transportation. With the success of the vertical farm, FarmedHere located in Chicago the future of vertical farming in the United States holds real promise. Although expensive to build, supporters of local sustainable food have allowed for this new agricultural business model to thrive. Businesses like this one have successfully shown that the idea of vertical farming can be a new frontier and that a push toward sustainable and green farming techniques already has a driving force.

Growing Up: Indoor Farm Goes 'Mega' Near Chicago- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7JPBUx057w

Popular media: Three YouTube videos are imbedded in this text.
Primary Sources:
1.     Fletcher, Owen. "The Future of Agriculture May Be Up; Advocates of 'vertical Farming' Say Growing Crops in Urban High-rises Will Eventually Be Both Greener and Cheaper." The Wall Street Journal 26.89 (2012): n. pag. Academic Search Premier. Web. 27 May 2013.
2.     Ehrenberg, Rachel. "Let's Get Vertical." Science News 174.8 (2008): n. pag. Academic Search Premier. Web. 29 May 2013.
3.     Despommier, Dickson. "We Need a Third Green Revolution." Biologist 58.4 (2011): 12-14. Academic Search Premier. Web. 29 May 2013.
4.     Couch, Christina. "Vertical Farming in the Windy City." Discover 32.4 (2011): 11-13. Academic Search Premier. Web. 28 May 2013.

[1] Figure:1 - http://www.greenprophet.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/vertical-farm-aerofarms-diagram-1024x607.jpg
[2] Figure 2: http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2012/11/07/vfarm05toned_wide-a1a554cbd8bcbb7c78a50abb9b84af4e399588eb.jpg?s=6
[3] https://pbs.twimg.com/media/AwuGg5-CIAAn6n6.jpg:large

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