Emirates Flight Catering invests 40 million dollar to build the world’s largest vertical farming facility. In this facility, located near Dubai International Airport, the caterer plans to harvest 2,700 kilograms of leafy vegetables.
Emirates Flight Catering (EKFC) co-invests with the American company Crop One. They set up a joint venture for this project. Crop One Holding is said to be the world’s leading vertical farm operator.
Worldwide innovation hub
According to His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman and chief Executive of Emirates Airline. This investment is in line with the wish of the United Arab Emirates to become self-sufficient in agriculture. The introduction of this pioneering vertical farming technology also improves Dubai's position as a global innovation hub.
2,700 kilograms daily
When complete, the vertical farm facility will cover approximately 12.000 m2. According to Crop One the production output will be equivalent to 360 hectare of conventional farmland. At full production, the facility will harvest 2,700 kg of high quality, herbicide free and pesticide free leafy greens daily, using 99% less water than conventional outdoor fields.
The pinnacle of fresh
Because the production is right next to the location where the vegetables are used, being the preparation of meals for aviation passengers, carbon emissions associated with transport are substantially reduced. In addition, it guarantees the freshest vegetables that can be processed within hours of the harvest. The construction of the vertical farm will start in November 2018 and will take about a year to complete. The first products are expected to be delivered on the plates of Emirates Flight Catering customers, including 105 airlines and 25 airport lounges, in December 2019.
Source: Emirates Flight Catering Video: FreshBox Farms
The rising popularity of vertical farming was clearly demonstrated at the GreenTech trade fair, held this year from 12 to 14 July in the RAI Amsterdam Convention Centre. GreenTech Amsterdam organised the GreenTech Amsterdam Vertical Farming Pavilion for the second time in a row, in collaboration with the Association for Vertical Farming.
As the co-organiser of the Vertical Farming Pavilion, the Association for Vertical Farming (AVF) was prominently present at the theme pavilion. In addition to this, the AVF held several round-table lectures at the AVF café, at which various experts in vertical farming spoke.
Farming without human interference
The topics addressed during the round-table lectures included the standardisation and use of data in vertical farming, innovation within vertical farming systems, growing crops for medicinal purposes and artificial intelligence (AI) in vertical farming. According to Ramin Ebrahimnejad, press & media manager at AVF, artificial intelligence – the last topic in the above list – is rapidly gaining in importance in vertical farming. ‘Learning machines will be playing an increasingly strong role in vertical farming methods’, says Ebrahimnejad. ‘Thanks to the combination of machines that can learn and artificial intelligence vertical farming the time will come soon when no human interference will be needed.’
‘Technology is of primary importance’
Consulting engineer Damion Schwarzkachel of Certhon agrees with Ebrahimnejad. ‘In the next five years, vertical farming will focus on controlled growth conditions, for which no human beings will be needed’, professes Schwarzkachel. Certhon was one of the approximately twenty companies with a stand at the Vertical Farming Pavilion. ‘Automation and scale increase in vertical farming will be playing an increasingly important role in the next few years’, predicts the company’s consulting engineer. ‘In this, technology will be of paramount importance with regard to development.’
According to Ebrahimnejad, another development in vertical farming is the increasing diversity of the crops being grown. ‘There is currently a movement that promotes a greater diversity in crops grown with vertical farming techniques. Cannabis is becoming increasingly interesting, but there are many other high-quality crops that are currently being grown more frequently using vertical farming methods.’ This trend can also be discerned in tests currently being conducted on raspberry and strawberry crops at the Certhon Innovation Center. ‘The profitability of vertically growing raspberries and strawberries still has to be proven’, concludes Schwarzkachel, ‘but we will be able to tell you more about this as soon as the results come in.’
Author: Leo Hoekstra. Photos: Mario Bentvelsen.
Certhon, a designer and builder of greenhouses, started growing the first crops in its very own Innovation Centre several weeks ago. The company aims to gain specific horticultural knowledge for indoor and vertical farming purposes through this brand-new test centre. Based on this knowledge, Certhon will be able to provide its customers with highly specific advice.
Six weeks ago, the first tomato and sweet pepper plants were brought into the Innovation Centre, to be followed by raspberries and strawberries two weeks ago. Next month, lettuce and herbs will also be grown in the ‘daylight-less’ Innovation Centre.
Advising customers and partners
According to Certhon agronomist Jeroen van Lent several varieties of each type of crop will be tested. “Each variety responds differently to the indoor situation. Based on the horticultural knowledge we are gaining we will be able to provide our customers and partners tailored advice.” The launch of Certhon’s Innovation Centre was preceded by two years of research. “In addition to the successful indoor projects we have already completed, we also conducted research into optimising the technology of daylight-less cultivation”, says Van Lent.
Eight different cultivation cells
The Innovation Centre contains eight different cultivation cells on a surface area of 240 square metres. “We will be able to continue our research on a really big scale. During the first few years will enable us to help our customers with the cultivation of a diversity of crops with the knowledge we will gain here. In addition to this, we will be growing pilot crops to obtain reference figures. This unique facility will also enable us to show our customers fully operational systems.”
Van Lent expects to harvest the first tomatoes at the beginning of May. He believes that this cultivation method offers many advantages. “The crop can be monitored down to the smallest details. You can ensure that the conditions are ideal at every moment of the day. There are no fluctuations in temperature, humidity or other uncontrollable factors. In addition to the knowledge we are gaining, we are also looking for ways to optimise our technical systems.”
Present at GreenTech
Certhon will be present at the GreenTech professional trade fair with a stand at the Vertical Farming Pavilion. Visitors will be able to take a look at the Innovation Centre’s research cells in real time.
GrowX officially opened the first ‘high-tech vertical farm’ in Amsterdam on 1 November. The company grows various types of vegetables in a ‘food flat’ situated in a corporate building on the Amstel III business park. Amsterdam encourages these urban farming initiatives, with the goal of bringing freshly grown products closer to consumers.
The common goal shared by the Municipality of Amsterdam and GrowX is to be able to offer half the population of Amsterdam vertically grown vegetables by 2025. Through this initiative, this city aims to be a worldwide pioneer. The surface area of GrowX’s vertical farm is currently 250 m2.
Expansion to 2,000 m2
GrowX currently supplies several top-class chefs and high-end restaurants with its vegetables. “We aim to expand our vertical farm to 2,000 m2, which would enable us to supply half the population of Amsterdam with sustainably grown vegetables, cultivated via vertical farming technology, by 2025”, explains Michel Visser of GrowX.
Shortage of fresh vegetables
According to Visser food shortages could become alarming in the future. This could be due to the rapid growth of cities and the population. GrowX believes that it is crucial that we do not develop a dependency on the import of fresh vegetables, which is paired to such negative factors as more transport movements, fuel costs and higher CO2 emissions. Besides that, you can’t really call vegetables that are shipped to you from many kilometres away fresh anymore, claims Visser.
“Vertical farming is carried out in the urban environment, which means less travel time for your tomatoes, for example. Vegetables grown on a vertical farm are cultivated in a high-tech closed system. You can create ideal circumstances here, and as a result harvests are fool-proof. Climate control also renders the use of pesticides obsolete. This means that rinsing and re-rinsing will no longer be necessary. As a result, vertical farming will also save lots of water”, continues Visser.
Taking into consideration that the vegetables are grown in layers above one another, space in the city is also used to optimum advantage. The initiators believe this to be a situation that offers only advantages. They call the Netherlands a pioneer in the field of knowledge and innovation in agriculture. Amsterdam aims to become the first city in the world where vertical farming will feed half its population. Start-up GrowX is an initiative launched by American John Apesos and chemical technologist Jens Ruijg.
Source: Amsterdam.nl. Photo: GrowX.
On 14 October, Jasper den Besten, Lecturer in New Cultivation Systems at HAS University of Applied Sciences, gave a presentation on triggers in horticultural technology, more specifically vertical farming. “Until now, a vast amount of technology has been developed in the sector. With the advent of vertical farming, that is going to change rapidly.”
Interest in vertical farming (VF) is growing worldwide, especially in America and Japan, but the standard greenhouse still has plenty of room for development, according to Jasper den Besten. "30 years ago, we grew 30 kg of tomatoes per square metre; these days, it is more likely to be 100 kg. As we manage to improve climate control, production may increase even further. So, you won’t hear me saying that cultivation of tomatoes and cucumbers in the greenhouse is going to stop any time soon, because there’s still plenty of room for improvement.”
However, conventional greenhouses do have a few stubborn disadvantages, continues Den Besten. "The climate can change very quickly. First the sun shines, then it clouds over, or it rains or the wind blows etc. Screens cannot handle this very well, lighting is not dynamic, and neither is the light colour. There are always ‘errors' in the climate, which causes plants to suffer stress and affects production. In a greenhouse without lighting or screens, the net time when there is enough photosynthesis for plant growth and maintenance is only 25 percent. Technology can be used to improve the distribution of light, one example being diffusion glass. Screens can also be used, and lighting during darker periods; these both reduce stress levels. However, it is never possible to completely eliminate stress, unless you work with a closed system."
In a VF system, production is as constant as possible. The same amount is sown and harvested, or, in the words of a film lover, ‘In a vertical farm, every day is a Groundhog Day'.
Another advantage: you can experiment endlessly in a VF system, something Den Besten and his students frequently do. "You can very quickly see the maximum potential of a crop or cultivation. You can learn a lot, and take away things which are useful for a normal crop." Such as? “At the HAS, we carry out research in all sorts of ways, such as the impact of LED lighting on the growth of plants. We discovered, for example, that one variety of lettuce does need reddened light, whereas another doesn’t. We’re also testing various full spectrum lamps. They in turn affect the substances in plants. In marijuana cultivation in America, which is legalised in some states, lots of these lamps are used. They are also used in breeding research. These lamps are not yet as efficient as LEDs, but they may become so in time."
In America, produce grown in a VF system may be sold as organic, but this is not the case in Europe. "In Europe, organic produce must be grown in soil, while in America organic produce can also be grown in water. You can even use up to 10% synthetic fertiliser. It is questionable whether VF growers actually want such an ecolabel at all, or if a new label would be more suitable for this production method, which in terms of sustainability is way ahead of other labels."
“In addition, we can also make part of the fertiliser ourselves, using natural methods. With a plasma generator, you can make nitrogen in a solution, as happens with lightning. There’s a company in America which sells this technology; we are working on it in the Netherlands. Nitrogen makes up half of all required nutrients. Conventional growers can also benefit from this technology."
Vertical farming does raise many issues, something Den Besten wants to emphasise. For example, is quality more important than quantity? Are substances more important than mass? “The content of healthy substances in plants such as Italian kale or lettuce can be increased by cultivation under different lamps. It is obvious that more people have to eat healthy food. But should food be made healthier, or tastier? Or should it be made easier to buy or consume? I think the latter is much more useful than the former. Sometimes we go too far in the application of technology. Let's pick the low-hanging fruit first, and then make refinements."
Another interesting question: central or local cultivation? “Will people on the East Coast of America who now get their lettuce from the West Coast want lettuce from Mexico, or even further away? Or do they want lettuce grown in their own city? Local production also reflects the spirit of the times and a dose of emotion. Pricing is then less sensitive, and consumers are prepared to pay that bit more.”
VF technology is rapidly decreasing in price, such as sensor technology. Den Besten describes this as crossovers. "There are plenty of high-tech developers, such as the Holst Centre in the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven, who are working in this area and have a whole range of solutions. These include luminous films, patches which measure body functions, and chips that track medication consumption. There are also applications that our industry is unaware of. For example, all sorts of sensors that can measure NOx, ethylene, etc. etc. with great accuracy. They can also be used to make measurements in liquids, such as N and Ca levels. What we actually want to know is what the plant is doing. Should you give the same amount of fertiliser during the day and night? At the moment, we really don’t know, but we can find out very quickly with these sensors, which only cost 20 or 30 euros. The data is stored in the cloud, so you can continuously see what is happening. It is clear that this technology is catching up with technology companies in the horticultural sector."
"We are also closely monitoring the roots of plants," continues Den Besten. Rhizotrons measure the effects of various parameters on root growth. "We've seen some weird things at times, such as when the soil cooling failed in a lettuce crop and soil temperatures became too high. Any lettuce grower will tell you that everything will then go wrong, but that was not the case with our VF system. We ended up with a more compact root system and more mass above the surface. It’s something easy to test here. We can learn a lot from vertical farming systems."
Is the Netherlands ready for vertical farming? Den Besten thinks so. HAS University of Applied Sciences is also participating in the Fresh Convenience Care Centre of Staay Food Group, which will open next year. It is the first major VF project in the Netherlands. "Staay Food Group is an example of a food processing company branching out into production. That's one way the sector could be overtaken. Once it has been proved that it can be successful, I believe others will follow rapidly."
Text/photos: Mario Bentvelsen
During the 'Vertical Farming, in or out?’ meeting on 14 October 2016, Rien Panneman of Staay Food Group announced that the company would be producing its own lettuce in a large vertical farm in Dronten from 2017. The new building is expected to be ready in mid-April 2017. The farm will be up and running by June 2017, according to Panneman. The meeting was organised by InnovationQuarter.
During his presentation, Panneman outlined why Staay Food Group has taken on a vertical farm project. "We have a factory in Dronten where we produce sliced vegetables and salads. The desire arose for more certainty, especially in the area of food safety. Another reason is local-for-local. At the moment, we source our lettuce for six months of the year from the Netherlands, and the other six months from Spain or Italy, so it’s not as fresh as it could be. If we can produce that in-house in the same place where we process it, we can guarantee sustainability thanks to lower logistical costs and reduced CO2 emissions. There are also other benefits, because there will be fewer foreign materials such as rocks, insects and even, in exceptional cases, frogs."
"The retail market at home and abroad stresses that we must concern ourselves with a cultivation method which is completely in line with vertical farming," continues Panneman. “There are various benefits to vertical farming; lower energy consumption and water consumption, for example. We also see advantages in terms of plant protection and microbiology. Supermarkets are trying to distinguish themselves by setting maximum limits for pesticide residues. However, that is obviously not the only battle. We have done tests with Philips, and found that products grown under LED lighting are many times better than products grown in the open soil in bacteriological terms."
Continuity also plays a role. “With vertical farming, we obviously know exactly when to sow and when to harvest, and the quality to expect," said Panneman.
In addition to the demand from supermarkets, the cooperation with lettuce grower Deliscious and developments in Japan have inspired investments in vertical farming, as Panneman explains, "Consumer prices in Japan are much higher than here, enough to make it viable there, in contrast to the Netherlands. We contacted a number of partners for discussions; Philips, Rijk Zwaan, HAS Wageningen, CAH Vilentum University of Applied Sciences in Dronten, and development company Flevoland. We sat down with them round the table, and explained that we want to set up something unique in Dronten. We are now working hard on it. A completely new factory is being built, scheduled for completion in March/April 2017. The vertical farm area is now being engineered, and is expected to be operational in June."
Staay Food Group’s new Fresh-Care Convenience Centre covers a total of 27,000 m² of floor space. The main area consists of high-care and low-care rooms. The entire hall in which the vegetables will be cut and packaged will be cooled. This includes the vertical farm, a conditioned space where lettuce is grown hydroponically under LED lighting without daylight. A 70,000 m2 plot is available next to the factory, where phase 2 can be built. Panneman, “We will be rolling out phase two as soon as we feel confident about growing under LEDs, guaranteed costs, and quality levels."
However, the ambition goes beyond the creation of a state-of-the-art production facility. "The new building is also an auditorium, where lessons can be given. We will also train foreign students. That gives us, and our partners, an advantage of course."
The cost of growing prime lettuces in a vertical farm is currently double that of current methods of cultivation. "However, the advantages are obvious and this is something our customers, the supermarket chains, recognise," says Panneman. "In addition, the cost of the lettuce component is limited, so our customers will gladly accept a limited price increase. After all, they receive a higher quality, safe and sustainable product for their money, with which they can distinguish themselves from the competition."
Staay Food Group is already thinking about setting up vertical farming projects outside the Netherlands. Panneman says, "You see more and more local-for-local and region-for-region agriculture, which means that we will eventually lose a lot of our export markets in the future. I think we should respond positively. We have to maintain our knowledge advantage in the field of fresh food production, and create a new model for generating income. State Secretary Van Dam recently said, ‘Let's stop dragging commodities around, and focus on exporting chain and production knowledge.’”
Staay Food Group is willing to share new knowledge. “Ultimately, we will also benefit from this; we need people who know how to grow under LEDs, who we can put to work both in the Netherlands and beyond." To conclude, he says, "We are convinced that this will be a success story. Our customers are very enthusiastic, and next year we will be able to produce profitably from day 1."
Follow the construction of the Fresh-Care Convenience Centre via the Heembouw website.
Text/Photo: Mario Bentvelsen. Artist Impressions: Heembouw/Habeon Architecten.
On 14 October 2016, InnovationQuarter organised a meeting at Koppert Biological Systems with the theme ‘Vertical Farming, in or out?’. More than 90 representatives from the sector listened to speakers such as Martien Penning (Hillenraad), Arnold van Liempt (Philips) and Jasper den Besten (HAS) talk about the opportunities, threats, benefits, costs, opportunities and challenges of vertical farming. Rien Panneman from Staay Food Group announced that a large construction for a vertical farm project in Dronten was all underway.
Martien Penning from Hillenraad gave a presentation on whether vertical farming (VF) can become horticulture’s ‘KODAK Moment’. His answer was yes. He substantiated this with an analysis of the most recent developments in the US and Asia, where dozens of VF initiatives have been rolled out. The big question was: When will VF perform as well as or better than conventional farming in greenhouses? Cost, quality, food safety and delivery speed are all key criteria here. His conclusion was not whether VF is feasible, but where and when.
Arnold Liempt from Philips Horticulture LED Solutions gave an overview of the many international vertical farming projects currently underway or being implemented. His presentation also made it clear that many there are many different models of vertical farming; from vegetable gardens under glass to cleanroom factories. An example was shown of an in-store farm with LED lighting at Metro Group in Berlin. VF in the Netherlands is still limited to research centres (Brightbox, Grow Wise Centre and PlantLab), and the propagation of seedlings, such as at lettuce grower Deliscious.
Jasper den Besten of HAS University of Applied Sciences talked about which technological developments vertical farming might accelerate. He proposed that conventional greenhouses would remain important for growing vertical crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and aubergines, while greenhouses with intermediate LED light could be seen as ‘The New Cultivation’. Just like Martien Penning, Den Besten noted that many technologies such as LEDs, sensors and robots are rapidly decreasing in price, and that this will accelerate the financial viability of VF projects, even though the cost of lettuce and herbs from VF is still considerably higher (2 to 8 Euros per kg) than those from a conventional greenhouse. On the other hand, VF projects can be better controlled in terms of colour, flavour and substances in plants. For example, the brix category of strawberries can be improved.
Ruud Kaarsemaker from Groen Agro Control discussed how nutrients could be used to control substances in plants. He said that the maximum possible returns are defined by the objectives, which might be dry matter content, substances in the produce, potassium or nitrate content, absence of residues or shelf life. The variety selection, cropping system (e.g. NFT) and recording analyses of nutrients can be used to achieve the desired objectives.
‘Alternative Thinker' Peter Jens sees VF as an opportunity to grow medicines, and therefore prefers the term ‘vertical pharming’. According to Peter Jens, we have to look at consumers differently in order to decide if VF is a beneficial cultivation system.
After the presentations, it was the turn of those working in the field, represented by Priva, Vitro Plus, Rijk Zwaan, Certhon, Plantlab and Staay Food Group. The expectation of a number of experts was that vertical farming will soon be offering plenty of opportunities for some crops and segments (the luxury segment and specialty shops and restaurants). Many flower crops and vertical crops such as tomatoes are unsuitable at the moment, but breeding and other growing techniques may eventually offer opportunities. VF definitely offers perspectives for special segments and niches in the market, but it is not yet able to compete with conventional cultivation.
Staay Food Group
To everyone's surprise, Rien Panneman from Staay Food Group announced that a large construction for a vertical farm project in Dronten for the cultivation of lettuces to supply large supermarket chains was underway. The project involves cooperation with various partners (Philips, Rijk Zwaan) and knowledge institutions (HAS, Wageningen UR). This farm will be up and running no later than June 2017, which means that VF will soon be a reality in the Netherlands. Growing in climate cells is seen as clean and food safe, something which consumers are willing to pay more for.
Anne-Claire van Altvorst from InnovationQuarter looks back on a successful day, “Many insights were presented from various quarters, as well as opportunities in many market segments. The openness we were able to create with each other was an essential element for ensuring the positive atmosphere. It was a fantastic day, and looks like it will be repeated. What is true, especially after the eye-opener from the Staay Food Group, is that vertical farming is 'in'."
Text/photos: Mario Bentvelsen.
IT company SERCOM from Lisse automated the first companies using multi-layer cultivation five years ago, well before the term Vertical Farming became a hype. At the GreenTech trade fair in Amsterdam, SERCOM will be displaying the latest process control - hardware and software - in this field.
Vertical Farming is the theme of the upcoming GreenTech trade fair in RAI Amsterdam. Vertical Farming is a global trend, and generally leafy vegetables and herbs are cultivated in closed spaces on several layers under LED-lighting. In Japan and America, Vertical Farming is on the rise, and primarily young entrepreneurs are attracted to it.
In America one Vertical Farming company after another is being set up, always in close proximity to large cities. The Association for Vertical Farming (AVF) expects that there will be a Vertical Farm next to every major urban area within 10 years. It is not surprising that multinationals like Philips, Metro, Osram, Toshiba, Microsoft, Panasonic, Fujitsu and GE are interested in it. It is not particularly popular with Dutch growers yet. But multi-layer cultivation is on the rise, especially with young plants (vegetables, potted plants) and tulip farms.
SERCOM has developed climate systems for several farms in the Netherlands involved in forcing tulips with multi-layer cultivation. One of them is Karel Bolbloemen BV in Bovenkarspel. Since 2011 they have been farming vertically. That makes Karel one of the first tulip companies that started large-scale 'internal expansion' with multi-layer layers in containers with an ebb & flow system. The tulips remain in the dark for the first few days, then fluorescent light is added. SERCOM developed the system for climate control, including the cooling of the climate chambers, the lighting for the multi-layer cultivation and the irrigation of the greenhouse.
In due course, the fluorescent lighting will be replaced by LEDs. Director-owner Bert Karel thinks this will use less energy and allow better control of the plants. Research conducted by Wageningen UR in 2011 revealed that tulips respond differently to different LED-colours. There will also be a new system, in which LED-lighting will be used to improve the quality of the tulips even more and match the production better to peaks in demand. Karel Bolbloemen BV supplies tulips upon demand to supermarkets throughout Europe.
Visit SERCOM at the GreenTech at SERCOM Plaza, hall 11, stand 321.
Photo: KG Systems/Karel Bolbloemen BV.
Nijssen will present the mobile climate chamber MyGrowthRoom at the GreenTech. With MyGrowthRoom cultivators and researchers will be able to efficiently optimise growth recipes and test new LED solutions.
Cultivation tests play a crucial role for cultivation under LED-lighting. Optimum light schedules and climate recipes improve the product quality and guarantee a good balance between growth cycle and energy bill. Research also shows that, for example, flavour, colour and texture can be influenced with LED-lighting. With MyGrowthRoom multiple cultivation trials can be carried out simultaneously under uniform conditions. The settings of a cultivation trial are easily saved as a recipe. MyGrowthRoom has a growing area of 6 m3, with a flexible layout and can be used with any cultivation system.
Integrated cooling and drying
Two air coolers take care of the integrated cooling, heating and drying of the cultivation room. This reduces the required cooling capacity. A separate air dryer is no longer needed. The integrated regulation allows for better manageable climate conditions in a broad temperature and RH range. With that, MyGrowthRoom is universally employable for tests with a large number of crops in every growth stage. Further energy saving is realized by storing the radiant heat from the LED lighting into a heat storage tank during the day. During the nighttime period this heat is reused to keep the room at the right temperature without extra electric heating.Various refrigeration innovations save up to 30 per cent of the energy use for cooling.
High-tech research facility
Nijssen is renowned for realising advanced climate chambers for a large number of universities and seed improvement companies. “All of the know-how from these high-tech research projects is combined in MyGrowthRoom," explains Edwin Snabel, business unit manager climate technology for Nijssen. "With MyGrowthRoom we offer professional cultivators the opportunity to do their own product research under the best possible circumstances.”
Nijssen can be visited in hall 8 at stand 133 during the GreenTech trade fair.
Apart from Vertical Farming, there are numerous hybrid cultivation initiatives taking place in and on buildings, also known as Urban Farming and Rooftop Farming. Even restaurants, supermarkets and offices are experimenting with growing fruit and vegetables in cities.
Vertical Farming is, of course, not suitable for crops that grow in an upwards direction, such as tomatoes and cucumbers. This problem was solved in Jackson (Wyoming) with the construction of an impressive building incorporating huge amounts of glass, designed by Larssen Ltd.: a very expensive building costing 3.7 million dollars, partly due to its earthquake-proof construction. Three stories of the building are dedicated to LED-illuminated Vertical Farming, with two stories reserved for herbs and leafy vegetables and the third for tomatoes. The 3,800 m2 surface area is sufficient for a production of 45,000 kg a year. The building is intended to bridge the awareness gap between horticulture and the city’s inhabitants and also provides space for education. The vegetables can be seen growing from behind a glass wall. The project received financial support through crowdfunding and the municipality is the owner of the building.
Restaurants and supermarkets
InFarm is directed at growing vegetables in big cities; in and by restaurants and the retail industry. ‘We are the new farmers and the city is our company.’ In his mind’s eye, the founder of InFarm is seeing supermarkets with multi-tier cultivation for leafy vegetables above the shelves. You simply can’t buy fresher food with fewer food miles than this! InFarm developed the Kräutergarten for the Berlin-based Metro wholesaler, just as Mirai did in Japan: a multi-tier LED-illuminated greenhouse in the supermarket. The crops grown consists primarily of herbs (basil in particular) and leafy vegetables grown on a shallow layer of water (hydroponics).
You simply can’t buy fresher food with fewer food miles than this!
InFarm also operates the UFcontainerfarm in Berlin: a container with a small greenhouse on top. Tilapia fish are bred in the container. The water from the fish is pumped up to the greenhouse, where it is used to water the plants after it has been purified. This concept is also used in London, where it is called a GrowUp Box.
Above and below ground
An outsider in Urban Farming is SkyGreens. This Singapore-based initiative grows vegetables on trays suspended in gutters. These gutters circulate vertically by means of two A-shaped pillars nine metres tall. The circulatory movement enables each plant to obtain the same amount of sunlight. The company has 1,000 of these vertical towers with 20 gutters each and produces 800 kg of vegetables a day, including Chinese cabbage, spinach and other leafy vegetables.
The London-based Farmdrop initiative produces herbs underground, in former bomb shelters.
Another outsider, but of an entirely different calibre, is the Pasona office building in Tokyo, where a myriad of plants and vegetables are grown on and in the building, which also features a dedicated Vertical Farming division. The vegetables grown here are intended for the company restaurant. In conference rooms, workspaces - in fact, all over the building - you will see tomatoes growing all the way up to the ceiling, or sweet peppers and eggplants, broccoli, lemons and even passion fruit. A total of 200 varieties of vegetables, fruit and even rice are grown here! The staff is free to pick whatever they want. The company employs a permanent staff of ten people to keep the vegetables in tip-top condition. Not everything is grown efficiently, but the project was never intended to achieve a high production rate; the concept was developed to engender awareness for food provision.
The London-based Farmdrop initiative produces herbs underground, in former bomb shelters: 30 metres below the surface. It took Farmdrop two years to conquer all the challenges of underground cultivation.
Where Vertical Farming appears to be booming, there is less interest among the inhabitants of big cities for rooftop cultivation - in greenhouses, at any rate. Few people practice greenhouse horticulture on rooftops, but when it is, this is mainly in the USA.
According to GothamGreens, urban farming is all about re-establishing the connection between people and the food they eat, educating young people and nurturing the soul.
A firm called GothamGreens operates a series of rooftop greenhouses, in which leafy vegetables are grown in gutters, in New York and Chicago. The first 1400 m2 rooftop greenhouse was built in 2011, and the total surface area of GothamGreens has since risen to 16,000 m2 distributed across four sites. The biggest measures 7,000 m2 and is built on the roof of a bowling alley. According to GothamGreens, urban farming is all about re-establishing the connection between people and the food they eat, about educating young people and nurturing the soul. ‘Urban Farming will never become a primary source of food, but its impact is lasting.’ A head of lettuce grown here costs around $4 at Whole Foods, almost twice as much as conventional lettuce grown in the field and $1 more than organic lettuce.
Bright Farms also aimed to dedicate itself to rooftop cultivation, but it was forced to give up its plans due to the difficulties it encountered with permit applications and the costs, which were 20% higher in comparison to an 8.5 million dollar greenhouse built just outside of the city.
The Swiss Urban Farms initiative in Basel built a 250 m2 rooftop greenhouse as a pilot in 2013. Three years later, in May 2016, the UF De Schilde rooftop greenhouse opened its doors in The Hague, the Netherlands. As opposed to the rooftop greenhouses in the USA, which are all on one or two-storey buildings, this greenhouse is situated on top of building six storeys tall. Greenhouse builder Van der Valk Kleijn designed an extra-sturdy greenhouse with double glazing incorporated into the walls and roof. The project’s financiers are SVn (Stimulation Fund for Public Housing) and private investors. The greenhouse collaborates with Rijk Zwaan, Koppert Biological Systems and Priva.
UF hopes to cater to 900 families who can order fresh fish and vegetables via a subscription, as well as to restaurants.
The 1,200 m2 greenhouse is the biggest rooftop greenhouse in Europe. The farm grows lettuce, micro-greens and tomatoes. The floor underneath the greenhouse is rented from the municipality of The Hague to farm fish, whose waste products are subsequently used as nutrients for the plants. Visitors can watch the cultivation process from behind a glass wall. UF hopes to cater to 900 families who can order fresh fish and vegetables via a subscription, as well as to restaurants: 500 tilapia fish a week and 50 tons of vegetables a year. UF expects the venture to be a success, mainly because consumers are enthusiastic about initiatives engaged in the local production of food.
Priva developed the necessary control technology for the project, which required an extraordinary degree of innovation taking into account all the regulations that apply to fish farming (e.g. temperature and oxygen content) and irrigation (including fertilising, temperature and electrical conductivity) for the various greenhouse sections in which lettuce, tomatoes and leafy vegetables are grown. On top of that, Priva also developed the systems for CO2 and climate control.
Lufa Farms in operates a 3,000 m2 rooftop greenhouse in Montreal (Canada) and one in Laval measuring 4,000 m2. Both were built by the Montoni Group and Kubo. The greenhouses are capable of withstanding large amounts of snow.
Verticrop combines a rooftop greenhouse with Vertical Farming, with cultivation on horizontally circulating plates in twelve tiers in a greenhouse on top of a parking garage in Vancouver (Canada). As the plates rotate slowly, all plants obtain the same amount of light and are watered and harvested at a particular point. However, the company has since gone bankrupt. The investment in both the rooftop greenhouse and a complete new cultivation system was probably too high. Additionally, crops grown using this system tend not to grow as profusely due to the limited amount of daylight they receive.
An interesting point for consideration is the extent to which the higher costs of a rooftop greenhouse are balanced against the presumed higher quality, freshness and local distribution. Or will the multi-tier cultivation of fruit, vegetables and fish under fully controlled conditions pave the way for Horticulture 3.0, with its smaller CO2 footprint, retention of local employment and higher diversity in supply as its social driving forces? In the meantime, restaurants, supermarkets and offices are all experimenting with growing their own vegetables, and urban consumers have discovered the art of growing their own food as a meaningful and pleasurable pastime.
Locally grown, super-fresh and demonstrably sustainable could very well become the new standard of reference.
The consequences are, however, very limited for the Dutch horticulture industry, which has traditionally always focused on the export of primarily herbs and leafy vegetables to other European countries. This does not detract from the fact that the industry should consider expanding its focus area to feeding mega-cities rather than ‘shifting around’ products from one location to another, as the CEO of Hoogendoorn, Martin van Gogh, recently suggested during the Greenport Annual Event. Locally grown, super-fresh and demonstrably sustainable could very well become the new standard of reference.
Text: Tuinbouwteksten.nl/Theo Brakeboer. Photo: UrbanFarmers/Martijn Zegwaard.
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