I read an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal last week. It was titled The Future of Agriculture May be Up, and it details a new trend – vertical farming – that may help address some of the environmental issues connected with farming. Local food enthusiasts frequently preach on the benefits of buying your food from a local (preferably sustainable) source. The farther your food has to travel before it reaches you plate, the less fresh it will be and the greater the environmental cost (think large trucks on the highway). So optimally you should, if you can’t grow it yourself, get your food from the local farmer’s market or other nearby source (roadside stands, pick it yourself venues…).
City dwellers, particularly those who live in large sprawling urban centers that are removed from agriculture, may not have the ability to buy local. Thanks to this new trend of vertical farming, this may be changing. From rooftop gardens in Mexico City, to an amazing 12-story building in Sweden where the plants will travel on tracks along the buildings southern face, vertical farming is a relatively recent idea that is blossoming.
Developed in 1999 by a microbiology professor at Columbia University, the idea of vertical farming has taken root globally. Not only does this system bring the food closer to the city dweller (important as more and more of the world’s population moves to urban areas) and reduce carbon emissions from truck traffic, it also takes up less horizontal space (ground footprint), and with plants being grown indoors in controlled environments may result in less pesticide and herbicide use. Check out the videos at the Vertical Farm Project website:http://www.verticalfarm.com/ for a detailed look at the process.
We are very lucky to have some space in which to plant a vegetable garden. Successful harvesting of a crop will depend on some factors outside of our control – namely the climate and amount of rainfall. If next summer is another hot, dry summer like the past one that shriveled the crops in the fields, we will be out of luck. Many of the vertical farming projects bypass the normal restrictions of climate – in Chicago an organization called “The Plant” grows crops in an old warehouse using aquaponics (a symbiotic practice of growing plants and raising fish in water) and at the same time will produce all their own energy needs through composting! If you are near Chicago it would be worth a visit – they give public tours (and always need volunteers).
In the meantime, back on the Boxcarkids Farm, we are making use of the compost contributed by our Angora bunny and three goats, and using old cedar fence boards have started our mulch/compost beds. Hopefully we will have some nice rich soil ready for planting in the spring!