Quantcast

World's Largest 'Vegetable Factory' Revolutionizes Indoor Farming

Food

Indoor vertical farming is often derided as a pipe dream and completely infeasible on a commercial scale, but Shigeharu Shimamura's farm proves that indoor farming is not only possible, but profitable. Shimamura started Mirai, an indoor farming company in 2004. When the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan, sparking the Fukushima nuclear disaster and causing food shortages, Shimamura seized the opportunity to turn an abandoned, semiconductor factory into what is now the world's biggest indoor farm.


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. One of the major obstacles to making indoor farming cost-effective was lighting. General Electric (GE) who partnered with Mirai, reports, "plant factories have typically used fluorescent lamps for artificial illumination, which has low initial costs." But these fluorescent lights didn't increase yields enough to cover the energy costs.

Then, GE and Mirai developed 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." Since the plants grow twice as fast with 40 percent less power, 80 percent less food waste and 99 percent less water usage than outdoor fields, Mirai has been able to recover the initial cost of the LED lights and make the cost of artificial lighting worth it.

For now, it is only half automated because various tasks including harvesting the lettuce are done by hand. Shimamura, however, predicts the emergence of harvest robots, who can seed, transplant, harvest and package the products.

Indoor agriculture takes out many of the risks inherent in outdoor crop production. By controlling light exposure, temperature, humidity and watering levels, you can grow food very efficiently. Indoor farming has the potential to produce food with less energy, less water, less waste and in less space than traditional methods. Because agriculture has such a significant impact on the environment, indoor farming offers solutions to many of the current problems. It could eliminate land conversion and habitat loss, wasteful water consumption and soil erosion and degradation, just to name a few.

Mirai has two smaller factories in Mongolia, where long, harsh winters stunt the growing season and leave Mongolians without fresh vegetables for many months. Instead of importing them thousands of miles from Europe, they are now able to grow them domestically. Shimamura is looking to expand to Hong Kong and Russia in the near future and eventually all over the world.

As for crops besides lettuce, Shimamura says, "I believe that, at least technically, we can produce almost any kind of plant in a factory. But what makes most economic sense is to produce fast-growing vegetables that can be sent to the market quickly. That means leaf vegetables for us now. In the future, though, we would like to expand to a wider variety of produce."

In a world facing more and more extreme weather events from climate change, there will likely be more devastating impacts on agriculture, such as those from the Fukushima disaster and Typhoon Haiyan. The GE team in Japan believes that indoor farms could be a key to solving food shortages in the world. Indoor farming takes what factories do best, which is harnessing technology to efficiently produce a good, and what nature does best, which is producing biomass from light, water and nutrients, and combining the two.

If done correctly, indoor farming has the potential to be the best of both worlds. Mirai is by no means the only indoor farming operation in the world. There are more like this one in Chicago. Says Shimamura: “Finally, we are about to start the real agricultural industrialization."

Watch how it works:

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Farmers Rewarded for Practicing 'Carbon Farming'

Hydroponic Planter Makes It Easy to Grow Your Own Indoor Edible Garden

Revolutionary Family Shows True Meaning of Self-Reliance

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A glacier is seen in the Kenai Mountains on Sept. 6, near Primrose, Alaska. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey have been studying the glaciers in the area since 1966 and their studies show that the warming climate has resulted in sustained glacial mass loss as melting outpaced the accumulation of new snow and ice. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

By Mark Mancini

On Aug. 18, Iceland held a funeral for the first glacier lost to climate change. The deceased party was Okjökull, a historic body of ice that covered 14.6 square miles (38 square kilometers) in the Icelandic Highlands at the turn of the 20th century. But its glory days are long gone. In 2014, having dwindled to less than 1/15 its former size, Okjökull lost its status as an official glacier.

Read More Show Less
Members of Chicago Democratic Socialists of America table at the Logan Square Farmers Market on Aug. 18. Alex Schwartz

By Alex Schwartz

Among the many vendors at the Logan Square Farmers Market on Aug. 18 sat three young people peddling neither organic vegetables, gourmet cheese nor handmade crafts. Instead, they offered liberation from capitalism.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
StephanieFrey / iStock / Getty Images

By Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD

Muffins are a popular, sweet treat.

Read More Show Less
Hackney primary school students went to the Town Hall on May 24 in London after school to protest about the climate emergency. Jenny Matthews / In Pictures / Getty Images

By Caroline Hickman

Eco-anxiety is likely to affect more and more people as the climate destabilizes. Already, studies have found that 45 percent of children suffer lasting depression after surviving extreme weather and natural disasters. Some of that emotional turmoil must stem from confusion — why aren't adults doing more to stop climate change?

Read More Show Less
Myrtle warbler. Gillfoto / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Bird watching in the U.S. may be a lot harder than it once was, since bird populations are dropping off in droves, according to a new study.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announces the co-founding of The Climate Pledge at the National Press Club on Sept. 19 in Washington, DC. Paul Morigi / Getty Images for Amazon

The day before over 1,500 Amazon.com employees planned a walkout to participate in today's global climate strike, CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled a sweeping plan for the retail and media giant to be carbon neutral by 2040, 10 years ahead of the Paris agreement schedule.

Read More Show Less

By Winona LaDuke

For the past seven years, the Anishinaabe people have been facing the largest tar sands pipeline project in North America. We still are. In these dying moments of the fossil fuel industry, Water Protectors stand, prepared for yet another battle for the water, wild rice and future of all. We face Enbridge, the largest pipeline company in North America, and the third largest corporation in Canada. We face it unafraid and eyes wide open, for indeed we see the future.

Read More Show Less
The climate crisis often intensifies systems of oppression. Rieko Honma / Stone / Getty Images Plus

By Mara Dolan

We see the effects of the climate crisis all around us in hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, and rising sea levels, but our proximity to these things, and how deeply our lives are changed by them, are not the same for everyone. Frontline groups have been leading the fight for environmental and climate justice for centuries and understand the critical connections between the climate crisis and racial justice, economic justice, migrant justice, and gender justice. Our personal experiences with climate change are shaped by our experiences with race, gender, and class, as the climate crisis often intensifies these systems of oppression.

Read More Show Less