According to Singapore farmer and entrepreneur Jack Ng, he can produce five times as many vegetables as a greenhouse by growing them inside vertical towers as opposed to growing horizontally. He just opened the country’s first commercial vertical farm, with half a ton of Sky Greens bok choy and Chinese cabbages grown inside 120 30-foot towers, NPR reports.
The technology is called “A-Go-Gro,” and looks similar to a ferris wheel for plants. Trays of veggies are stacked inside an aluminum A-frame, and a belt rotates them to ensure equal light, irrigation, and adequate air flow.
The number of plants this method can fit into a tiny space is one of the biggest advantages, allowing fresh produce to grow in small areas near grocery stores. This cuts down on transportation costs, which reduces CO2 emissions and the risk of spoilage. Most of these farms are also indoors, meaning pests and unpredictable weather are less of a factor.
Unfortunately, so far this isn’t a very economical way of farming, and developing affordable ways of doing it continues to be a challenge. It is also unknown whether these farms will be more efficient at producing food than a traditional greenhouse design. The result is mostly reliant on the amount of light, and since the area receives about the same amount as a traditional greenhouse, the plants get less since there are so many packed into one space.
This might not yet be a viable option for countries like the United States and Canada, where many businesses are beginning to taking advantage of rooftops for outdoor urban gardening space. Real estate in Singapore continues to be scarce and expensive, so at this point there are few choices available and going vertical is a beneficial option.
Singapore also receives most of its produce from the United States, China, and Malaysia, so locally grown vertical veggies will be fresher, which is worth the 5 to 10% price increase to locals.
This could prove to be a resourceful way to feed a growing population, even if it’s expensive at first. If it catches on, no doubt the technology will advance and there will be cheaper ways to vertically grow food. Would you like to see local grocery stores adopt a strategy like this?
Image credit: MNDSingapore