Vertical farming is the agricultural process in which crops are grown in vertically stacked layers rather than in traditional, horizontal rows. Growing vertically allows for the conservation of space, resulting in a higher crop yield per square foot of land used. Vertical farms are mainly located indoors, such as a warehouse, where they have the ability to control the environmental conditions for plants to succeed.
Generally, fresh produce grown in vertical farms travels only a few miles to reach grocery store shelves compared to conventional produce, which can travel thousands of miles by truck or plane. With vertical farms, farmers can provide fresh produce grown indoors year-round by controlling light, temperature, water, and oftentimes carbon dioxide levels as well. This means that consumers would be able to go to their local grocery store in the middle of January to pick up freshly harvested lettuce, fragrant basil, juicy sweet strawberries, and ripe red tomatoes – all of which were harvested at a local farm only hours before you arrived!
According to USDA, they recently teamed up with the Department of Energy to hold a stakeholder workshop focused on vertical agriculture and sustainable urban ecosystems. At this workshop, field experts shared thought-provoking presentations followed by small group discussions focusing on areas such as plant breeding, pest management, and engineering. Workshop attendees from the public and private sectors worked together to identify the challenges, needs, and opportunities for vertical farming. A report on this workshop will be released to help inform Departmental strategic planning efforts for internal research priorities at USDA and external funding opportunities for stakeholders and researchers.
The USDA has already had some of these funding and research opportunities in place. The National Institute for Food and Agriculture has funding opportunities (PDF, 1.22 MB) that could support future vertical agriculture conferences and research. Similarly, the Agricultural Research Service is working on a project to increase U.S. tomato production and quality in greenhouses and other protected environments.
Companies like Oishii are making vertical farming a norm as well. Oishii created its largest and most technologically advanced vertical farm yet to meet the growing demand for the company’s Omakase Berries.
Located in Jersey City, N.J., the new farm spans more than 74,000 sq. ft.—the largest vertical strawberry farm in the world, according to Oishii—to exclusively grow the company’s strawberries. The company repurposed a former Anheuser-Busch factory, transforming it into the company’s flagship farm of the future and new headquarters.
According to Food Engineering, Oishii introduced the Omakase Berry in 2018, noted for its sweetness, aroma, and creamy texture. The Japanese cultivar is grown in Oishii’s three indoor vertical farms, which are designed to harmoniously marry nature, technology, and farming techniques perfected for decades in the foothills of Japan. The company says it has recreated the elements—rain, air, heat, light, and nourishment—to grow the perfect fruit every time, all year round. The company says it perfected the fruit through its first-of-its-kind pollination method, conducted naturally with bees. The hyper-locally grown produce is farmed without pesticides. Harvests rely on advanced robotics and automation while using 60% less energy and 40% less water than the company’s first-generation technology. Oishii says that the use of these innovations in conjunction with its farming methods allows the company to pass on significant value to its customers. The company says it is currently in development on new strawberry varietals, as well as other types of flowering produce and vine fruits, such as tomatoes, melons, and peppers.
Vertical farming sounds like it would be great for both large operations as well as small. Either way, vertical farming is a fairly new farming method that makes the future of produce look fresh!