06 June 2014

Indoor Farming

Welcome back. Ever since my GPS led me here to my wife’s family’s farm, I’ve been wondering what they could do with the barn, which hasn’t been used for years. My latest idea would require loads of information before I hand them a business plan, but I’ve been thinking about renovating the structure to begin Warren’s Indoor Farm Enterprise. (I’m willing to consider other names.)

Along with the major push to boost the consumption of edible insects, which I served in an earlier blog post (Entomophagy), there’s been a…what? 20 year?...movement gathering steam to expand indoor farming beyond mushrooms in your basement and broccoli sprouts in your kitchen.

I had some notion of indoor farming. Then, over the past six months I started seeing more articles on the topic, especially vertical farming, which I had thought was growing crops in tall buildings, though I learned the label is being used for growing crops stacked vertically in any structure. What really captured my attention was a video broadcast by Aljazeera America.
Plantagon’s design illustration of a planned vertical farm
in Sweden--177 feet tall with18 levels of vegetable gardens
whose trays would revolve around a helix system.
At the risk of telling you everything you already know or less, I thought I’d devote today’s post to indoor farming.

Why Farm Indoors?

The impetus for indoor farming, in particular vertical farming, is much the same as that for edible insect consumption–increasing global population with limited opportunities to increase the production of food from land or ocean. One additional incentive for indoor farming is urbanization. Over half of the world’s population is concentrated in urban centers, that’s expected to increase and that’s where indoor farms could be established and do the most good.

Among the advantages of farming indoors are year-round production of higher value crops--vegetables, herbs, fruit-bearing plants; protection from adverse weather; no need for herbicides or pesticides; reduced use of land, water and fertilizer; and reduced environmental impact from runoff, farm equipment and, if located in or near urban centers, from transport to market.

How is Indoor Farming Implemented?

Various approaches can be adopted, however, indoor farming is an ideal setting for hydroponics--growing plants in water with mineral nutrient solutions, with or without some inert medium (e.g., perlite, pumice, gravel, coconut husks) and no soil; aquaponics, which is a marriage of aquaculture--producing fish, prawns or other aquatic animals in tanks—and hydroponics, such that each contributes to the other; and aeroponics, growing plants in an air or mist environment without soil.

The structures employed for indoor farming vary, but the trend toward vertical farms, long envisioned by Columbia University’s Dickson Despommier, would occupy high-rise urban buildings, constructed or renovated for the purpose. Assorted designs have been proposed and some have been or are being built.

One variant, operating in Singapore since 2012, is essentially a 3-story greenhouse. Plants are grown on racks of A-shaped frames that rotate to expose the plants to natural light and provide nutrient solution and irrigation.

The Singapore vertical farm has multiple “A-Go-Gro” rotating frames inside each 30-foot tall greenhouse. (photo by Singapore Ministry of National Development, www.cbc.ca/strombo/news/farming-grows-up-the-worlds-first-commercial-vertical-farm-opens-in-singapo)
There’s a hybrid vertical farm in Tokyo, where Pasona, the company that occupies the building, is using different methods to grow vegetables in every nook and cranny of its office space.
The Pasona office building in Tokyo shares 20% of its office space with growing vegetables. (www.archdaily.com/428868/in-tokyo-a-vertical-farm-inside-and-out/)
Green Spirit Farms recently opened a single story indoor farm in Scranton, Pa., and can grow up to 17 million plants on rotary planters, stacked six high. The facility makes use of artificial light, as does a Green Sense Farms facility near Chicago, which occupies a 1 million cubic foot growing space. The latter operation partners with Philips, which provided LED lighting, whose wavelengths (color) can be optimized for the plant and stage of growth.
Green Spirit Farms installed vertically stacked rotary planters in its Scranton, Pa., indoor farm. (www.harborcountry-news.com/articles/2013/07/03/features/doc515c56f5491c8195014129.txt)

The Green Sense Farms indoor farm near Chicago relies on variable wavelength LED lighting. (greensensefarms.com)

As for the Aljazeera video that motivated me, I have the link but the video is gone. Not to worry; there’s ample information available about “The Plant,” which is establishing indoor aquaponic farms as sustainable food businesses and educational facilities in a converted industrial building in Chicago. The Plant is promoting the concept of closing waste, resource and energy loops. Its renewable energy system, for example, is built around an anaerobic digester that diverts tons of food waste from landfills to meet its heat and power needs.

Wrap Up

Field and grain crops are generally not going to be grown indoors, and non-leafy crops that require pollination will require special treatment, which might include hosting bees. While the jury is still out on the economics of indoor farming given the present availability of land and cost for artificial lighting, much will be learned from the initial ventures.

My primary concern about converting the barn for Warren’s Indoor Farm Enterprise is the market, though I expect little competition for my edible insects and perhaps snails. Actually, if we can’t find a digester, I might be able to use the snails for power (see Snail Power). Thanks for stopping by.


-Dickson Despommier’s website with a wealth of material on vertical farms: www.verticalfarm.com/
-Examples of recent articles on vertical farms:
-Examples of vertical-farm designs in Esquire Magazine:
-Video on Singapore vertical farm: www.youtube.com/watch?v=cY7O5YNxKuI
-Article with video on Tokyo vertical farm:
-Article with video on Chicago area farm and LED lights:
-The Plant website: www.plantchicago.com/

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