What is vertical farming – Zjef’s opinion

Originally posted on 15 June 2013 at http://averticalfarmstory.blogspot.be

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I did a personal scientific study and it showed that 99,99% of the human population wants to see hunger and poverty out of this world. Yet, even with this gigantic amount of good will spread all over the globe, it seems an unattainable goal. Personally I think the root causes are hate, anger, greed, pride, resentment,… and many other destructive emotions that exist in anyone of us. So the only thing we have to do is overcome these emotions and start thriving. Do I sound like Jesus? Well maybe I do, but a more interesting question might be: Why am I writing this in a blog-post with the name “What is Vertical Farming”?

Vertical farming is an expansion of the existing ways of producing food and it comes with many advantages. The most important one, of course, is that this vertical way of farming can multiply the yields of a specific production area by many times. The sky is literally the limit and enormous amounts of food can be produced on small pieces of land. Another interesting characteristic is that it eliminates the costs and other unfortunate effects of transportation. This is because the crops can easily be grown where they are consumed: In the heart of the city, in an underground facility and even in the desert. Next to that, the cultivation techniques, used by vertical farmers, can also seriously reduce the use of pesticides and water, causing the food to be more healthy and ecological. The last (but not least) interesting property is that vertical farming is not subjected to annoying weather conditions, because of that it can produce plants faster and all year long. Thus you can start imagining yourself in the center of a big metropolis, on a cruise-ship or on the moon… eating fresh vegetables grown just a few vertical meters away, cause my friends, this way of growing food is already happing all over the world.

So…highly productive, local, ecologic, healthy and futuristic. Vertical farming seems to have the possibility to solve many of the world’s problems: it has the power to reduce hunger and poverty, while it simultaneously can help to protect and restore our fragile ecosystems. However, I do recall that already many technologies exist with very similar properties, and somehow, they can’t seem to make a difference…why is that? Is there a secret ingredient that’s missing and that prevents us from obtaining these noble goals? And if so, can we add it to the vertical farming technologies?

During my vertical farming quest, I’ve been inspired by many stories, people and companies, but probably the most important one is Plantagon from Sweden and its CEO Hans Hassle. Plantagon is not only trying to build the first full blown 17-stories high Vertical Farm in the world, they are also trying to do it using a special ingredient: “Companization”, an advanced form of corporate responsibility.

Model of Plantagon’s Vertical Farm (to be build in Linköping, Sweden). Plantagon says: In our organizational model, a hybrif between a company and a non-profit organization, we combine commercial and value based driving forces in one organization. We call it “the Companization”. As the corporate role in society has changed dramatically we need to develop the corporate institution itself towards transparency, democracy and a long term perspective. We designed Plantagon to implement a sustainable perspective in the business community. Our vision is a market with a human face. Maximizing profit is no longer a reason for a company to exist. (Hans Hassle in his book: Business as usual is over)

Is vertical farming a solution to worldwide hunger and poverty?

Perhaps… But armed with the knowledge that every human being wants to do the right thing and inspired by international examples like Plantagon that are already doing it… I will put my passionate effort in making my vertical farming work. Plantagon’s inspiring example demonstrates the possibility that vertical farming is not here to replace, but rather to support the current ways of farming.

Yet, the solutions for the supply-difficulties of China’s megacities will be different than those for the East-African food-deserts, not to mention the fact that they are both hard to compare to the European situation. Switzerland, for example, has to import 40% of the food while its highly subsidized farmers have difficulties to survive economically. This means that, in order to be sustainable and beneficial to everyone, the vertical farming technologies will need various and customized implementations for every region.

That’s why I’m here in Switzerland, doing my marketing research and trying to understand the problems and the needs of both producers and consumers. Consequently I can try to unite everyone so we can start implementing possible solutions for the benefit of all. And for me, this cooperation will only be successful if it generates sufficient amounts of healthy, local, affordable and easily obtainable food that makes everyone happy.

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