Vertical farms aim to avoid the problems inherent in growing food crops in drought-and-disease-prone fields many hundreds of kilometres from the population centres in which they will be consumed. Instead, Dickson Despommier – an ecologist at Columbia University in New York City who has championed vertical farms since 1999 – suggests that food should be grown year-round in high-rise urban buildings, reducing the need for the carbon-emitting transport of fruit and vegetables.
The plant racks in a vertical farm can be fed nutrients by water-conserving, soil-free hydroponic systems and lit by LEDs that mimic sunlight. And they need not be difficult to manage: control software can choreograph rotating racks of plants so each gets the same amount of light, and direct water pumps to ensure nutrients are evenly distributed.
The whole apparatus can be monitored from a farmer’s smartphone (see “Farming from afar”), says GSF’s R&D manager, Daniel Kluko. He says the new farm in Scranton will grow 14 lettuce crops per year, as well as spinach, kale, tomatoes, peppers, basil and strawberries. Its output will be almost 10 times greater than the firm’s first vertical farm, which opened in New Buffalo in 2011.