January 19

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Vertical Farming Systems: The Future of Agriculture

By Beginning Farmers

January 19, 2021

As Featured In:


The global population is expected to reach 9.7 billion people by 2050. There’s a lot to be concerned about with this projection, mainly what it means for food supplies. As construction increases, the amount of available land decreases. We’re already losing significant portions of our land at a fast pace, and population increases threaten to accelerate the rate.

How much more could we lose? An exact number isn’t known, but it’s something we need to be concerned about and prepare for. A larger population means more people needing to eat. If we don’t have any area to grow food, how will we be fed?

For some, the answer isn’t trying to reclaim all that arable land. Instead, it’s adopting a different way of farming on a wide scale. In this article, we're taking a deep dive into vertical farming so you can learn all you need to know.

What is Vertical Agriculture?

The best way to grow food today is using some type of vertical platform. You don’t put your food all on the same plane, the way you do with growing food in a garden. Instead, you utilize vertical spaces that are usually part of a bigger unit, such as a vast warehouse.

Vertical farming involves growing methods for places like greenhouses, with help from Controlled Environment Agriculture innovations. There won’t be as much access to direct sunlight or rain, but plants can still receive the nurturing they need.

It works like a greenhouse, using artificial means to help plants grow, along with natural ones. The main purpose is to get as many crops produced as possible, even with limited space.

Vertical Farming at Home

Vertical farming doesn’t require an emergency to happen or for massive space. You can make your farm right in your home. This can be a new food source and a way to earn money with a great side business.

So, what do you need to make a vertical farm specifically? You just need space and ways to layer plants vertically, such as with shelves like in the Click and Grow Wall Farm or the Click and Grow Smart Garden 27

How To Start

Creating a vertical farm doesn’t require clearing out massive amounts of space in your home. You can use something as small as your closet to start planting. The size isn’t as important as knowing all of the ways to take care of your plants.

You’ll also need important pieces to help your crops grow. Things like grow light-attached shelves, and PVC pipe tower gardens are both great things to implement your systems. Also, be sure to consider where the light makes the biggest impact in your home. This can help you realize where to position your garden.

This type of farm setup also helps you learn new ways to grow plants outside of soil. For example, hydroponic systems are a way to grow plants without soil. A plus of a soil-free system is that they avoid issues that originate in soil, such as certain parasites. However, these systems are still subject to problems with insects and diseases.

Benefits


You’ll get a lot of benefits with vertical agriculture. It gives you more room for growing food and doesn’t use too much water.

There’s also a whole lot of fruits and vegetables you can grow. The pros keep coming. Here are some reasons to start vertical farming:

1. More Room - The top reason is the amount of room it provides. For people living in cities, this can give them a fantastic opportunity to start gardening.

Pick any room or nook to set up your vertical garden. Imagine having food growing in your living room.

More room isn’t just suitable for your living situation. It’s also great for the world in general. With less space taken up by farmland, there’s more room to grow food for people.

2. Saving Water - Uses a lot less water since recycled water is involved. You’ll use far less water than you would with traditional farming techniques.

You can also use hydroponics to help you save water even further.

3. You’re in Control - With your crops in your home, you can control what happens to them and keep better track of their trajectory.

4. More Food Produced - Requires less room and doesn’t rely on nature as much as traditional farming does. Therefore, it can also let you grow plants a lot faster.

You’ll be able to turn vacant areas into thriving mini-farms. The more people doing this, the more chances we’ll have to feed people.

Costs

There’s no universal number for how much a farm like this costs. A personal one could cost less than $1,000, while a business one could be a million-dollar enterprise.

We’re going to focus on vertical farming at home solely.

You’ll need to consider two things: the cost of your equipment and its maintenance.

Equipment Costs

First, starting your vertical system can be pretty expensive. All of the equipment can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. If you’re not looking for the newest or finest materials, you can save money.

If you have a big backyard, you might decide to set up your own vertical farm, not in your house. This is best if you need a larger farm so you can grow more.

Running Costs

You’ll need to invest regularly to keep it operating. How much you spend on running costs is influenced by your equipment cost. A minimal setup could mean you only need to pay for water and fertilizer.

There are different hacks to help you save money when, such as buying rain barrels.

Automatic vertical farming is an excellent way to save time, but you’ll also have to pay for the electricity involved.

Still, if you compare that to exclusively buying produce from a grocery store. Your homegrown vegetables are also much better for your health.

Alternative to DIY

Building a farm like this by yourself can many resources from you: Time, focus, money, and most likely stress when trying to figure it all out from scratch. If you are particularly crafty or creative, you can manage this DIY project no problem.

But you might be thinking, "what about me?" if you have no DIY experience at all. Well, there are companies out there who build these vertical gardens for you like Aero Garden and Click and Grow. 

You have to invest up front to get these done for you systems, but it will save you the time, trial and errors, and lots of frustration by doing things yourself. Here are our two favorite automatic vertical systems:

  • Smart Garden 27

  • wall Farm

Click and Grow Smart Garden 27

Grow organic, fresh, and nutritious food 365 days of the year with this automatic smart garden. 

This system does everything for you by providing the optimal amount of lighting, nutrients, and water to your garden.

You can think of this system as like a Keurig cup machine for coffee.

Except this machine is for plants and provides "pods for plants" that have the nutrients and seeds already inside!

What To Grow?

An excellent motivation for starting is thinking of how much fantastic food you can grow in it. If you can produce something in your backyard, you can grow it in your vertical garden. Some ideal beginner crops are leafy green vegetables that mature quickly. Some of these are:

  • Tomatoes
  • Lettuce
  • Microgreens
  • Herbs
  • Kale 
  • Spinach

You can try new things when you become more confident with vertical farming. Peppers and herbs are really nice to have. While they can take longer to harvest, they can fetch some excellent prices.

These are things you need to keep in mind if you’re want to make money with your vertical garden:

1. Money-making opportunities - Think about how well your produce will sell. If you know local businesses like restaurants would love your tomatoes, get yourself a sound system going to stay in business with them.

2. Maturity rate - Some crops can mature in a month or less. However, there are ones that need at least a few months to bear fruit. Think about how quickly you need your plants before you decide what to grow.

3. A Gradual Approach - Do a test run when growing any crop before committing to a long-term investment of your time and money. You don’t want to be stuck with a bunch of equipment you have no use for after realizing you choose the wrong crop.

4. Variety - Avoid betting on one kind of produce. Plant several types to increase your profit potential and save you from losing money in the event of a crop not taking off.

How Does It Work?

Successful vertical farms all have a few aspects in common. They all need to start with a tiered design, as that’s the core of the system. Without this design, it would have one of the most significant traditional farming problems: taking up too much space. There’s a reason why people put their books on shelves rather than scattering them all over the floor.

1. Lighting

Every tier has lights to replicate sunlight. They’re timed, preventing your plants from receiving more light than they need. While light is essential for plants, too much of it can be a killer.


2. Water

There are many different ways to water. The cost and type of equipment you use can determine your watering method.


3. Aquaponics

One way to water is with an aquaponics system. In this method, you use fish for fertilizing water, which helps the plants stay alive. Then, the plants offer water filtration, which the fish benefit from.

4. Aeroponics

Aeroponics involves pipes that go under plants. These give the plants a nutritious mist, starting with their roots. You don’t need any soil for aeroponics, which can save even more room. There’s also reduced strain from lugging around giant soil practices.

5. Hydroponics

The most common way to water a domestic vertical farm is through hydroponics. This is far more affordable and manageable than aquaponics or hydroponics. Crops go in a healthy batch of water, regularly moved around to keep it primed. Starting with this method is best for new vertical farmers.


6. Regular Watering

If you’re really pressed for money, a watering can always work. Start by watering the plants at the top. Then, let them spill water onto the plants underneath. Check these other plants regularly to make sure they’re receiving enough water.

Environmental Impact

Vertical farming can feed large numbers of people and help the environment. A lot of arable lands are being lost because of climate change. The longer we let this go on, the more farming opportunities we’re going to lose out on permanently.

There are numerous this type of growing system can improve the environment. It conserves far more water, with hundreds of liters per crop being retained. There’s also more to be grown in less space. Helping the environment is about making more with less, and vertical farming provides precisely that.

But how does this system use less water? It’s because of how well it recycles water used while growing. Instead of evaporating, the water can be brought into the fold, helping your plants even more. You can even save more water with aeroponics, providing nourishing mist on the roots.

Solving World Hunger

We keep saying that vertical farming is a great way to deal with word hunger, but how will it help?

There are many ways that it is a potential miracle when it comes to addressing world hunger.

It doesn’t require nearly as much room as older types of farming. You could have a large-scale farming operation in a downtown skyscraper.

There’s also the added protection. These plants are safe inside, receiving healthy doses of water and sunlight without dealing with invasions from pests and other disasters.

Then, there’s the amount of water saved. It reduces the amount of water other farms use by 95 percent. The result is more produced with less money spent.

Vertical Farm Companies

There are large scale companies around the world who are taking the reigns in solving the issue of traditional farming. Many of them are in hyper growth phases with no sign of slowing down. In no particular order, here they are:

1. AeroFarms

Among the most renowned brands is AeroFarms. Since starting in 2004, they’ve made than $130 million worth of investments.

They use their own kind of aeroponics. These are very nuanced measurements, and the environment and the farmers are all kept safe.

AeroFarms was created in New Jersey and saved 95 percent of the water used in traditional farming methods.

2. Bowery Farming

Bowering Farming opened in 2015. In the subsequent years, it’s become a massive success. Their funding is more than $140 million.

They’re based in New York and are used by multiple restaurants. Their success can be attributed to the lack of pesticides and non-altered seeds.

Bowery Farming is said to save similar amounts of water as AeroFarms. They also say their productivity rates are 100 times that of traditional farming methods.

3. Plenty

Plenty probably has more than plenty, as their funding is over $220 million.

It’s a San Francisco company with numerous farms in the region. They make herbs and spices, as well as kale and arugula.

Matt Barnard, the CEO and one of Plenty's founders, doesn’t have a greedy approach. He says everyone using vertical farms are in the fight “together.”

4. InFarm

There are also businesses outside of the United States, like InFarm from Berlin, a popular European operation.

Thus far, their funding is over $35 million.

5. Gotham Greens

Gotham Greens is headquartered in Chicago and New York. They’re also looking to expand their operation.

They started in 2011 and have made over $45 million in investments.

This is one of the few that uses hydroponics instead of aeroponics.

6. Iron Ox

iron Ox’s $6 million funding may be less than others, but there’s plenty of reason to pay attention to them.

This is the first farm inside that’s completely autonomous. Robots are responsible for growing and harvesting these plants.

Right now, Iron Ox focuses on kale and lettuce. However, more is expected to come as they build their name.

7. AgriCool

AgriCool began in 2015. This Paris-based business uses aeroponics for their crops.

They’ve made over $40 million through investments. Some of their items are coriander, basil, and strawberries.

AgriCool is also very eco-friendly. They really solely on renewable forms of energy. They also have software that shows people how to make their own produce.

8. CropOne

CropOne is a Dubai company with a great future. In 2018, they had an agreement with Emirate Airlines to the tune of $40 million. This was to build the world’s biggest operation.

CropOne started in 2011 and said they use hydroponics to use 99 percent less water than typical farming methods.

FAQ

Is Vertical Farming Profitable?

You can make money with a vertical farming system. It may not be enough for you to retire on, but you can get a steady cash flow from your tasty tomatoes. Learn about marketing in different ways, like telling people in local organic farming Facebook groups about your business. Compare your profits to your spending to see how you’re really doing.

Is It Easy To Set Up A Vertical Farm At Home?

If you are crafty and have DIY experience, then it's very easy to start a vertical farm in your home. The more complex it is, the longer it will take. However, simple ones can be put together in less than half an hour.

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