Vertical farms have been touted as a way to feed a rapidly urbanizing world population (I've waxed poetic about them myself.) Critics of the trending technology, however, contend that these energy-intensive hubs are too costly and perhaps impractical to maintain.
Sure, the naysayers have a point, but what if vertical farms did more than just feed mouths? In Stockholm, Sweden, the Plantagon CityFarm located in the basement of the iconic DN-Skrapan building in the Kungsholmen district has a whole other purpose besides nourishing the office workers on site—the farm also recycles its heat to warm the offices above.
The underground farm, which will start production early next year, stores the heat emitted by the LEDs used to grow veggies and then reuses that energy to heat the property. This stroke of genius allows the venture to pay nothing in rent.
"[The building owner] agreed to give us a free lease for three years, so we don't pay one single Swedish kroner for the room," Plantagon cofounder Hans Hassle told FastCompany. "This is the challenge, very often, for urban farmers: If you really want to grow things in the city, you have to find new business models that actually make the food not too expensive in the end."
FastCompany reported that the system will save the office building 700,000 kilowatt-hours of energy a year, roughly worth three times as much as the previous tenant of the space had paid in rent.
Notably, the office building and the farm will work together symbiotically. "The CityFarm under the DN-Skrapan will provide its surplus heat to the offices and in exchange [receive] CO2 from the people who work there," the developers said.
The farm is expected to produce 100 kilograms of fresh vegetables daily and, like many other indoor farming ventures, it recycles most of its water and does not need to use any herbicides or pesticides.
The Swedish company has a goal of opening a total of ten such facilities in the Stockholm area by 2020, and it has started a crowdfunding campaign for the planned expansion.
"The reason for a crowdfunding campaign is that we believe that people that care about the future of cities, food production and the health of our planet should be given the opportunity to be a part of the solution," said Owe Pettersson, CEO of Plantagon International. "To us, it is important to create and expand together, showing that we are a movement for healthy sustainable food. Together, we can make a difference for safe food production in cities—now and in the future."
From Philadelphia's skyscrapers to the Windy City, vertical farms are sprouting in some of the most unlikely spaces. Soon, you might be able to pluck fresh, vertically grown greens right from your local Target.
According to Business Insider, the big box store is kicking off its vertical farming pilot project in a handful of U.S. stores in spring 2017. If the trials are successful, Target stores across the U.S. will likely start selling vertically-grown leafy greens with the possibility of in-house grown potatoes, beetroot, zucchini, peppers and even rare tomatoes down the line.
The ambitious project is part Target's Food + Future CoLab, a collaboration with MIT's Media Lab and international design firm IDEO, to explore urban farming, food transparency, supply chain issues and health.
"People like to say things like, 'the best strawberries come from Mexico.' But really, the best strawberries come from the climate in Mexico that creates expressions like sweetness and color that we like," said Caleb Harper, director of the Open Agriculture initiative at MIT's Media Lab. "We think there is tremendous opportunity to democratize climate through control-environment agriculture and we look forward to kicking off this work with Target."
In the video below, Harper gives a tour of his "Food Computer" that creates the perfect climate to grow food.
EcoWatch has mentioned previously how vertical farms are an ideal food security solution, especially with Earth's rapidly changing climate and growing population. Produce is usually grown indoors with less water and without pesticides. In some of these indoor farms, produce is grown under LED lights that can mimic outdoor growing conditions and help accelerate plant growth. For swelling cities, vertical gardens help meet the demand for healthy food all year round, and usually with less food-miles to get from farm to plate.
"Down the road, it's something where potentially part of our food supply that we have on our shelves is stuff that we've grown ourselves," Casey Carl, Target's chief strategy and innovation officer, told Business Insider.
As Forbes reported, many industry insiders are exited about Target's new vertical farming initiative.
“Vertical farming is genius," Jasmine Glasheen, publishing editor of Off-Price Retailing Magazine commented on a RetailWire BrainTrust article. “Vertical farms are more resistant to climate changes and storms. Plus, the holistic aesthetic of an organic vertical farm will allow Target to compete for natural foods customers."
“I like the idea," added Paula Rosenblum, managing partner at RSR Research. “Even better, if they structurally could support it, would be growing this stuff on the roofs of the stores."
However, others have commented that this project might be too difficult and expensive to pull off.
"This is not a new idea," said Mel Kleiman, president of Humetrics. "Fiesta Supermarket built a store in Houston more than 30 years ago with a vertical garden. It looked great, got a lot of attention and cost a lot of money. Five years after they opened that store, the garden was gone."
"Good for marketing and PR, but the scalability, execution and ultimately the ROI (return on investment) may prove to be a significant challenge," Peter Sobotta, founder and CEO of Return Logic, wrote. "That said, I like the concept and it is a step in a good direction."
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
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Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.