What about vertical farming?

What I mean by the title is instead of having farms and ranches spread out over many acres, what if we built tall buildings instead?

Not being a farmer, rancher, engineer or architect, I don’t know if this is feasible in the least or even a good idea at this time(who knows what the future might bring).

It’s already going on. Here and here are a couple of companies that are doing it. Also see this paywalled National Geographic article about enormous greenhouses in the Netherlands.

One advantage of this approach is that produce items like salad greens can be supplied to city restaurants the same day they’re harvested. So it’s probably best for high-value goods.

Yes, it’s being done.

It tends to be energy- and input-intensive. It can make sense in certain situations; but it’s unlikely to be a good way to supply the bulk of our food needs.

This is already being experimented with in various ways.

Specific irrigation & nutrients, advancing robotics, and excellent water recycling pretty much means this is going to start growing as a method of growing crops over the next few decades.

Huh! Well whaddayaknow? Here I just thought this was one of my regular commute/shower meanderings that was slightly more interesting and it turns out to be an actual thing.

Vertical farming was much-hyped as the next big thing a decade or so ago. Many people advocated it for urban infill where housing had been torn down, both to reclaim those areas and to provide fresh vegetables in places that had food deserts. That obviously didn’t happen.

Here’s an article that gives a good balance of pros and cons. Right now, the concept in the U.S. is about ten years away from being ten years away. Too many problems need to be overcome to make it even a niche solution, less alone a mass one.

This may become an option when we start to colonize other planets.

Arranging the farm vertically doesn’t make more sunlight available - if you’ve seen renders of city-like setups where there are tightly clustered tall, vertical farm buildings, those aren’t terrifically realistic; they are going to be shading each other.

My assumption was vertical farms would use artificial light to feed the crops.

Well, yes, of course, they’d be using artificial light.

That’s got some good points; but I note that they claim one of the advantages would be that it could be done organically. That’s a highly controversial claim. Such systems can be done using only inputs that would be considered organically permissible; and the USDA, which thinks that “organic” is a marketing term, allows them to be certified under USDA standards – but the underlying principle of organic agriculture is that the farmer feeds and takes care of the field and its soil life, and the field and its organisms then feed the crop. There is no “field”, in that sense, in hydroponic / indoor systems. They’re entirely artificial; the natural web of organisms in a live field, and in the air and water of the ecosystem that it’s part of, does not exist. The systems can only be “organic” in the negative sense of “we didn’t use x forbidden materials”; not in the positive sense of working towards and with a healthy local ecosystem.

that was an interesting article. the thing that jumped out to me though was the bit about a lack of pollinators. It seems to me that bees and perhaps other pollinators would be an obvious thing to keep as part of a vertical farm. With bees at least, you get pollination and another product or two to sell, beeswax and honey. maybe even pollen itself? I’ve seen “bee pollen” and just plain pollen for sale here and there.

The main question remains, why do it?

There is plenty of land to grow on now. Vertical farming solves none of the issues involved with farming, like water needs. And there will be other, added cost.

Farming is all about squeezing a nickle and hoping a penny pops out in the end. Can it be done? Sure! But why?

really? I was hoping it would be powered with mirrors and natural light.

angrily throws Grant proposal in the trash

Well, the only real reason I can think of, and its maybe doesn’t seem like a great reason, is that we figure out the best way to do it now, so that if something happens later that makes it more economically feasible or maybe even required, we have at least some of the requirements worked out. There’s a lot of holes in that, I know. Just the best I could come up with on the fly

The real trick was training the squirrels to turn the mirrors to follow the sun.

Actually it does help greatly with the water issues.

No it isn’t; it’s here now. I can go into the nearest supermarket and buy vertically-farmed salad greens from this company. It’s so normalized that they’re sending me coupons in the mail.

Ordinary farming is unbelievably wasteful with water use. It should not take more than an ounce of water to grow an ounce of food. A closed indoor farming system could achieve this. The most efficient conventionally farmed foods (carrots, tomatoes, strawberries, etc.) take roughly a gallon to produce an ounce of food, which means they use over 100 times as much water as they should. Most foods are much worse, taking 10+ gallons per ounce (making them 99.9% inefficient), and beef is another order of magnitude worse, taking >100 gallons per ounce (making it 99.99% inefficient).

I don’t know how well these vertical farming companies are managing water use but they at least have the potential to massively reduce it.

Well… yes and no. While it does use artificial lights as a supplement, Gotham Greens uses a lot of natural light in their system. Then again, some might not see them as “vertical farming” because they tend to be on one level and utilize the roofs of existing buildings (they also have a purpose-built greenhouse or two).

The thing about a place like this keeping a hive of bees on hand is that the bees need to eat all the time, and need quite a few flowers to do so. There’s likely a minimum size/number of flowers that would have to be blooming at once, all year round, and I’m not sure how large a number, or how large a farm, that would require.

I think perhaps you did not read the linked articles. Vertical farming uses only 5-15% of the water conventional dirt-farming does. It very much does go a long way towards conserving water. It also doesn’t pollute water with fertilizer and pesticide run-off the way our current agribusiness farming does.

There are, of course, trade-offs and other costs.


There are some companies out there finding a niche and making enough money to stay in business and pay everyone involved. But like I said, right now it’s very niche.

Right now, you only see greens and herbs which don’t require pollination on the market. Clearly, those can be grown at a profit. And let’s be real - any such operation has to show some profit or it can’t stay in business long term. Anything that does require pollination is going to be harder to pull off, which is why you don’t currently see it. Finding a way to handle that aspect of farming in a cost-effective manner will be quite the breakthrough.

My dad used a paintbrush to pollinate the hydroponic tomatoes and bell peppers we grew in the basement for awhile. That’s fine for a hobby and one household. It doesn’t scale up to farming and making food affordable for the masses.

Even with just greens, though - it uses less water and very often fewer miles to transport them. People very often forget the transportation costs involved in our current food production. Lettuce does not get from California to, say, Chicago in the middle of winter for free. Gotham Greens growing lettuce on a rooftop means fresh food in the middle of a big city that isn’t dependent on a thousand-mile journey.