Vertical farming is a radical new way to feed our growing population sustainably. But can it replace traditional farming?
Since people began farming 12,000 years ago, agricultural productivity has largely been subject to the chaos of nature — uncontrollable factors like weather, insects, and viruses. Space is also an inherent problem in agriculture: Arable land can only produce a finite amount of crops per harvest, and the health of soil degrades over time.
Vertical farming minimizes both problems. Under carefully controlled conditions, plants can grow 365 days a year without sunlight, herbicides, or pesticides. And unlike other indoor farming techniques, vertical farming goes an extra step by optimizing space: Crops are grown on shelves stacked in columns, boosting the productivity of each square meter.
Vertical farming won’t disrupt the global food system overnight. But the growth of the industry could speed up as LEDs become cheaper and people become more aware of how industrial agriculture contributes to climate change. The key to a sustainable and efficient food system could be to copy how libraries store books and New York City houses people: build up.