Vertical farms/facade farming

Leafy greens in a hydroponic vertical farm. Source: https://aerofarms.com/technology/

Vertical farming and facade farming are the process of growing produce or plants vertically, rather than traditional open field farming. Vertical farming is a rapidly growing innovation that uses modern technology to grow vertically stacked plants. In large facilities, the environmental conditions, as well as nutrients, air, water and CO2 input and output are carefully controlled. The verticality means it is possible to grow more produce with less horizontal space, and the ability to completely control indoor conditions means high-nutrient, diverse produce can be grown without consideration of weather conditions. Vertical farming uses significantly less water and land than traditional farming. 

‘Vertical farming’ as a term has been used to cover a broad range of approaches, from personal- or community-scale vegetable and herb growing to vast skyscrapers for commercial production of a wide range of crops (Beacham et al., 2019).

‘Facade farming’ also uses vertical space to grow plants, but rather than growing plants in controlled indoor facilities, this occurs on the facades of existing or new buildings. As cities densify and populations grow, using vertical space to grow food may be a key strategy to adapt to climate change. 

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Name of NbS

Vertical farms/facade farming

Type of NbS

created or constructed living ecosystems

Location

urban

Case Study

Greengrower

Vertical farming at Greengrower. Source: https://www.greengrower.nz/#our-people

Technical requirements

Large scale vertical farming is controlled carefully within each facility. There are various phases that can be controlled, monitored and continuously improved. Each of these phases requires different types of equipment and systems, as well as technical and plant knowledge: 

Propagation

Seeds are planted and propagated into seedlings under lights. Different lights, temperatures and locations have an effect on root growth, speed of growth and how the seeds absorb nutrients. 

Seedlings

Seedlings become adult plants within the vertical farm.

Harvest

Plants are harvested, new seedlings are planted, and the plants are monitored. 

Conditions

The microclimate around the plants is constantly monitored. Each facility has a system for how air, water, CO2 and nutrients are delivered to each plant to ensure maximum health and yield of the plant. Ventilation and shading are also typically monitored.

Monitoring

A large-scale facility constantly monitors data and performance to alter things such as air, temperature, shade, water, and nutrient levels. This requires coordination. 

In local or private gardens, the creation and maintenance of a vertical farm would focus on the same things, but on a smaller scale. To ensure the farm’s success; the health of the plants needs to be monitored and the conditions adjusted accordingly. 

Large scale vertical farming facility. Source: https://www.aerofarms.com/about-us/

Opportunities, Issues and Barriers

As Oceanic regions continue on the path of rapid urbanisation, there is an opportunity to embrace vertical farming as an innovative, new way to cultivate fresh produce. More people are moving into our cities, and we need to find ways to create locally sourced produce on larger scales. 

Vertical farming can be introduced on small and large scales. There are now companies in Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia that produce vertical farm systems that businesses can introduce to their factories, to supplement or avoid open-field farming. This is an opportunity for businesses in Oceania cities to switch to locally-grown produce. There are also opportunities for large retailers to embrace locally sourced vertical farming, rather than sourcing non-locally or even from overseas. On a smaller scale, people can adopt vertical farming in their private gardens, using less space to grow their own food. The cost of setting up and running the facilities is the main barrier, but as technology improves, so too may the cost-effectiveness.

Financial case

There is a clear cost-benefit analysis to be made. The cost of setting up and maintaining the facilities is offset by the benefit of having locally sourced, nutrient-dense produce available, using less space, and contributing to climate change adaptation. The process is more sustainable, requires less labour and less chemicals, creates more diverse plants and can create more reliable crop cycles.

Facade farming. Source: Valerio Gualandi / EyeEm / Getty Images
References

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