5 Ways Vertical Farms Are Changing the Way We Grow Food
No soil? No problem. From Japan to Jackson, Wyoming, plucking fresh lettuce is as easy as looking up. Vertical farms have been sprouting around the world, growing crops in places where traditional agriculture would have been impossible.
Vertical farms are multiple stories, often have a hydroponic system and some contain artificial lights to mimic the sun. These green hubs are attractive in a variety of ways since food can be produced with less water (since it just recirculates), creates less waste and takes up less space than traditional farming, ultimately leaving a smaller footprint on the environment.
Additionally, the United Nations projects that the world's population will reach 9.6 billion people by 2050, 86 percent of whom will live in cities. For swelling cities, these urban farms give city dwellers greater access to fresh, nutritious food-year round, reducing the distance it has to travel to get to forks. Here are five more reaons why the sky's the limit with vertical farms.
1. Vertical farms can defy any weather: In perpetually wintry Jackson, Wyoming, residents will soon be able to find fresh tomatoes, lettuce and other produce that's not hauled in by delivery trucks. The Vertical Harvest farm is a three-story 13,500 square foot hydroponic greenhouse that will sit on a mere 30 by 150-foot plot adjacent to a parking lot. Utilizing both natural and artificial lighting (especially since the area is blanketed in snow most of the year), three stories of plant trays will revolve inside the building as well as the ceiling in a carousel-like system to maximize light exposure. The company aims to supply 100,000 pounds of year-round produce that's pesticide-free, and will use 90 percent less water than conventional farming because it recycles its water.
Construction of the $3.7 million greenhouse kicked off last November and has already pre sold crops to restaurants, grocery stores and a hospital. In the video below, E/Ye Design architects and Vertical Harvest co-founders Penny McBride and Nona Yehia talk about their innovative building and their mission to hire adults with developmental disabilities to spur local employment.
2. Vertical farms are a great response to climate change: Urban farming has been touted by many as a solution to increasingly extreme weather caused by warmer global temperatures. In very parched California, the Ouroboros Farms in Pescadero employs an unusual group of farmers: Catfish. The farm uses an "aquaponics" system, where 800 catfish swim and dine on organic feed, and as they create waste, the crops above suck up this nitrogen-rich fertilizer. All this means no soil, pesticides or other toxins are required for the stunning variety of vegetables that are produced at the farm, from spicy greens to root vegetables. In case you're wondering, nothing goes to waste; these fish are also sold as food. The farm also saves 90 percent less water than traditional farming.
"I honestly believe [aquaponics] is the evolution of farming," Ken Armstrong, the founder of Ouroboros Farms, said in the video below, "because of its ability to grow faster and more densely with fewer resources it will be the methodology of growing in the future."
3. Vertical farms adapt to disaster: We previously featured Japanese plant physiologist Shigeharu Shimamura, who converted an abandoned, semiconductor factory into the world’s biggest indoor farm, Mirai. Shimamura built the farm in 2011 in response to the food shortages caused by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan, and sparked the Fukushima nuclear disaster which irradiated much of the region's farmland.
At 25,000 square feet, the farm can yield up to 10,000 heads of lettuce a day. That’s 100 times more per square foot than traditional methods, and uses 99 percent less water usage than outdoor fields.
A press release said that the building is powered by special General Electric LEDs that “generate light in wavelengths adapted to plant growth. While reducing electric power consumption by 40 percent compared to fluorescent lighting, the facility has succeeded in increasing harvest yields by 50 percent,” and meant that Mirai was able to offset the cost of pricy LEDs. Watch how it all works:
4. Vertical farms are becoming more advanced: It's only the beginning for vertical farms in terms of technology. At the New Buffalo, Michigan branch of Green Spirit Farms, some plants grow under pink-tinted LED lights which "provide the correct blue and red wavelengths for photosynthesis," according to Harbor Country News. It's so efficient, the farm can currently grow 10 tons of lettuce in only 500 square feet of space. Green Spirit Farms president Milan Kluko also told New Scientist that he and his colleagues are developing a smartphone or tablet app that can adjust nutrient levels or soil pH balance, or sound an alarm when a water pump is malfunctioning, for example. "So if I'm over in London, where we're looking for a future vertical farm site to serve restaurants, I'll still be able to adjust the process in Michigan or Pennsylvania," he said.
Farm Manager Mike Kennedy making sure our fresh & local veggies (kale) are on the right time zone - they are now! pic.twitter.com/V4sNEzd6HR
— Green Spirit Farms (@greenspiritfarm) March 8, 2015
5. Vertical farms are saving lives: Vertical farms are being used beyond food. In fact, they're being used to aid human health. Caliber Biotherapeutics in Bryan, Texas is home to the world's largest plant-made pharmaceutical facility. This 18-story, 150,000 square foot facility contains a staggering 2.2 million tobacco-like plants stacked 50-feet high, that will be used for making new drugs and vaccines. Because the indoor farm is so carefully monitored and tightly controlled by technicians, these expensive plants are shielded from possible diseases and contamination from the outside world.
Barry Holtz, the CEO of Caliber, told NPR that the facility is also efficient when it comes to water and electricity: "We've done some calculations, and we lose less water in one day than a KFC restaurant uses, because we recycle all of it."
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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