Fed Up

New vertical farms stand to popularize the agricultural innovation

Idealists have long dreamed of agrarian utopias where residents live symbiotically alongside the food they eat. Proponents of the vertical urban farming movement have sought to make this dream a reality in recent years, though it has proven to be a challenging endeavor. Lately, a new generation of farms has emerged that marry inspired design with economic expediency, suggesting that the innovation could soon be scalable.

121714-1CityFARM: A finalist in Fast Company’s 2014 Innovation by Design competition, MIT’s CityFarm in Cambridge, Massachusetts makes it possible to grow ample produce throughout the year in a space that has been described as being little more than “a glorified closet.” The system employs hydroponic and aeroponic techniques that require significantly less water than traditional methods, a strategy which research scientists at MIT Media Lab hope will make it easily replicable in cities throughout the world – particularly in regions where farming conditions are harsh. If proven successful, the methodology could have practical applications in school cafeterias, restaurants, and beyond.

121714-2VertiCulture Farms: The cofounders of VertiCulture Farms last month launched a successful crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to build an aquaponic research and development farm on the roof of a former Pfizer building in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Aquaponics is a farming method that utilizes the waste stream of fish as a nutrient source for hydroponically grown plants. Both plant and fish – in this case, tilapia – live in a recirculating system that allows farmers to grow plants using up to 90% less water than traditional field agriculture. Since the fish are isolated from native species, they pose virtually no threat to the local environment.

121714-3Green Sense Farms: Like AeroFarms, which set up shop in a former nightclub in downtown Newark, New Jersey, Green Sense Farms has likewise picked an unlikely setting for agricultural innovation: a windowless warehouse outside of Chicago. There, the country's largest indoor, commercial, vertical farm uses Philips LED grow lights to nurture leafy greens and herbs throughout the year. Foregoing soil, Green Sense takes the unique approach of using coconut husks as a bed for its produce, which is eventually sold to grocers like Whole Foods and select food establishments in the greater Chicago area.