Vertical Farming: A Huge Piece to a Gigantic Puzzle

Our beloved British landscape is withering. It’s on its knees, begging for relief. It’s pleading for freedom, longing to be rewilded. The countryside is dying. With less than 3% of Britain built uponthis is a difficult truth to accept. But our country, celebrated for its ostensible natural beauty, is almost entirely engineered. It is, quite paradoxically, exceptionally unnatural.

The farmlands, which constitute a significant portion of the patchwork-landscape we call our countryside, are barren. They’re agricultural deserts; wastelands, inhospitable to a huge fraction of our native fauna. The handful of creatures capable of living a solemn existence resultantly overwhelm the heaths and woodlands and are persecuted as if they were at fault. Yet, we made our country this way.

Man-made monocultures specialising in crops inedible to pollinators (particularly our chief pollinators, the beesbecome impotent as they fail to house the creatures upon which their cross-fertilisation relies. Those crops which could otherwise provide nourishment are usually doused with pesticides, poisoning their prospective residents, killing them. With 87% of all flowering plants relying on pollinators these methods of farming are ecologically disastrous, and broadly so. Causing drastic reductions in pollinator populations, and thus reducing pollination in our few remaining non-agricultural countryside areas, they foster environments incapable of sustaining even moderate levels of wildlife.

But more than just damaging to ecosystems, these farming methods are both operationally and economically unsustainable (especially given the projected growth of our population). After all, “[c]rops relying on animals for pollination account for about $1 trillion of the world’s $3 trillion annual sales of agricultural produce”.

The Chinese are already having to adapt to this reality. With bees entirely extinct in certain regions of China, many farms have resorted to hand-pollination. That is, equipped with feather-tipped paintbrushes, labourers young and old are forced to pollinate every single flower individually by hand. An exhausting, inevitably underpaid and, frankly, unnecessary task. But the problem is not exclusive to China. Almond farmers within central California, relied upon for some 82% of the worlds Almond produce, spend $290 million annually hiring bee hives in order to make up for the lack of natural pollinators. Unsurprisingly, the majority of these costs are passed down to the consumers.

Considering that wild bees are capable of providing pollination services for free, these measures are nothing short of farcical. What a phenomenally effective way to waste money – destroy the natural, free and sufficient processes and then pay to replace them. Yet these examples outline fiscal procedures soon to be employed domestically, unless drastic action is taken.

Another paradigmatic example of how we are destroying our countryside, which is attracting more and more attention thanks to the work of George Monbiot and Chris Packham, is seen in the state of our highlands, hillsides and woodlands. As a result of having to keep their lands in ‘good agricultural and environmental condition’ (as mentioned in my previous post, Ramble On) farmers are literally paid – with public money, nonetheless – to prevent the growth of vegetation. Their sheep ransack our pastures, preventing woodlands from advancing, reducing the availability of potential habitats, preventing the growth of our most effective natural carbon capture and storage sinks. All the while these farms are paid subsidies in order to remain economically profitable. Its a fiscal, ecological, climatic nightmare.

We need to fundamentally rethink how we approach farming, making it compatible with an economics which doesn’t take the environment for granted (an environmental economics‘ – see Tony Juniper’s ‘What Has Nature Ever Done For Us?’  for a fantastic introduction). Do I have the answer? No. Most definitely not. This deeply complex issue has nuances too delicate to mention upon without sufficient research and deliberation. But I do believe that a huge piece to this gigantic puzzle has already been discovered. And it’s called vertical farming.

Vertical farming, as a component of urban agriculture, is the practice of producing food in vertically stacked layers, integrated within urban structures. The general idea is to bring agriculture into the urban sphere, for the benefits this offers are unprecedented. Grown inside controlled environments, crops require no protection against ‘pests’ and thus produce no contaminated runoff. Internal climate control enables year-round, rather than seasonal, harvesting of crops – creating more and cheaper produce. Situated inside buildings, crops are inherently protected against severe weather events. They also use less than 10% of the water typically required in open-field farming. And, most notably, vertical farming radically reduces the amount of fossil fuels required in the production and transportation of the harvests as their produce is locally consumed.

Moreover, entwined within all of these advantages is a grand opportunity. An opportunity to return some our countryside back to nature. An opportunity to rewild our deserted landscape, or to at least allow it to rewild itself. An opportunity for nature to re-establish itself naturally. Pollinators, big and small, could greatly prosper and, with them, our wildlife could flourish.

With less demands upon rural farms, we could utilise unneeded land. We could reforest vast areas and allow natural floodplains to return. All the while we’d tremendously increase the capacity of our carbon capture and storage sinks, helping the fight against climate change or/and mitigate its effects. There’d be room for urban developments. Room for new towns, new houses, new opportunities to create jobs, to redistribute wealth. Vertical farming provides so many solutions.

Despite being relatively young an idea, vertical farms are already starting to spring up around the world. However, no government or city is yet committed to, nor explicitly supports, a complete transformation of their agricultural infrastructures. I expect most of them are too scared or lazy to seriously consider fundamental change. Who knows what our government here in Britain thinks of the idea. But I reckon it’s about time we asked them.

An agricultural reform is needed now more than ever. Let’s save ourselves from the inevitable collapse of our current agricultural system. If we’re lucky, we might just liberate our countryside in the process. Let’s give Britain a new lease of life.

A.C. Stark

 

 

 

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19 thoughts on “Vertical Farming: A Huge Piece to a Gigantic Puzzle

  1. Very well argued. As someone who lives in the desert state of Rajasthan and is surrounded on all sides by other states that are predicted to run out of water (completely, per NASA) within a couple decades (or is it sooner?) I’m always interested in listening to thoughts on alternate farming methods – especially such as these that are in controlled environment, and potentially can be done with a small footprint – thus potentially in urban india vs rural india (our cold chain is nonexistent). Do you have any photos or links that show where this is happening successfully? Also, any numbers (cost) that you’re aware of?

    – VA
    p.s. Thanks for stopping by at my blog 🙂

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  2. Vertical farming is just one more technocratic/sustainability device to needlessly and for globalizing political, not environmental, reasons squeezes as many people and their supporting infrastructure into as small a space as possible. It’s an inhumane policy based on an obscene Technocratic political ideology that treats human beings as though we’re some kind of cancer. We’re not. We’re the apex of creation/evolution as we know it.

    As for the nuts and bolts of farming in the UK, you’re barking up the wrong tree: the UK doesn’t control its agricultural policy. The EU does. And many of the monoculture and barren tracts you rightly decry are caused by the EU’s CAP programme. i.e. The UK can not do anything to rectify the situation while it remains an EU member nation.

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    • I think my arguments could apply to the EU also. Although, I doubt exiting the EU is the most responsible answer.

      As for the apex of creation/evolution: creation or evolution? They’re rather different. I think if you’re interested in the value of humans vs the universe, you’d be interested in reading up on Ethical Instrumentalism. Be wary, though. It might give you a shock.

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      • Why is leaving the anti-democratic EU not a responsible thing to do? There is not a single person or institution in the EU that represents any EU “citizen.” Not one. Unless you can name one of course.

        I’d also point out that your previous post suggested that the UK do things that it simply can not do while it’s a member of the EU, and that the EU will not do because it would mean changing its policies, which it does not do.

        So, the ONLY way, responsible or otherwise, to achieve what you state you want to achieve in the UK is for the UK to leave the EU. It really is an either-or situation.

        I’ll be glad to hear what you have to say about Ethical Instrumentalism, particularly sine it is clearly a manmade concept, thus reinforcing my claim that Mankind is the epitome of creation/evolution.

        i.e. it is illogical to cite a manmade concept as a means to undermine the uniqueness of mankind in the ability to conceptualize.

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      • re. EI, read my post Why Ethics Should Centralise Around Nature for a very brief and *non-academic* introduction. Otherwise, source Ethical Instrumentalism by J.S. Biehl.

        I would note that you never clarified what you meant by ‘the apex of creation/evolution’, which can be taken in various ways, so I’m not guilty of your charge of ill-logic.

        I shan’t comment further on this,

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  3. What a fascinating blog. I have been thinking about vertical farming – a necessary eventual step – They have such things in the Netherlands – but the vegetables do not taste as good. In Britain I think we have gone to extremes of housing, high-rise became a NoNo – but that is because they knocked them up cheaply and filled them all with “social housing” – in other words those not wanted anywhere else. This means traditional houses, which are land hungry and built on our green spaces. Somewhere in between where vegetables are grown on rooftops along with solar panels – is what is really necessary. From the air we should just see huge solar panels and wind generators that also have green-housing running along in the cities. Pigs can live in orchards etc.

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  4. Pingback: Green Deserts of Norfolk | The World according to Dina

  5. Hi,
    Thanks for visiting my blog. I love this post and the general ideas in it, I see we have many interests in common. I love the idea of finding inventive ways to introduce nature into cities and countries as a whole (rebuilding rather than just constantly destroying). In Australia, before I moved to New York myself and my dad set up a colony of wild bees in his yard. I’m not sure many Australians know about them, but they don’t sting like other bees, they are more like a fly. Perfect for urban yards to pollinate veggie patches and flowers, and rebalance the loss of bees caused by overuse of pesticides.
    Great Blog, I look forward to exploring it further!
    Laura

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  6. Great to read Britons are thinking about how land use effects C02 generation and Warming. Science here in Australia has been looking at this, https://theconversation.com/farming-in-2050-storing-carbon-could-help-meet-australias-climate-goals-54899

    I’m not sure farming vertically or reforesting Scotland is an answer, but farming practice certainly has to change. Much of this must come from changed national policy which should include farming for carbon, not just cows and sheep.

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  7. Vertical farming is something that has intrigued me for years now but it does not seem to have gone very far. In Australia some businesses have recently begun enclosed “horizontal” farming whereby fruit and vegetables are grown over otherwise completely unproductive land in environments where, due to heat, not much would grow anyway. These farms are powered almost entirely by electricity they generate from solar power. Their products are of uniformly very high quality and are grown all year round.

    For more information have a look at http://www.sundropfarms.com/, it is certainly worth a look.

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  8. Unfortunately with agriculture contributing only 1% of our GDP and the vast majority of our fruit and veg coming from abroad I think it is unlikely our government will wake up in time especially whilst the vast majority of consumers think ‘cheap’ when it comes to their food rather than ‘sustainable’, ‘quality’ or even ‘taste’. We need a food revolution to incite the reform me thinks.

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  9. I love your writing style! It’s very compelling, very motivating yo known more. May we hope that changes come about in the future with regards to the environment. There is little people think they can do; going vegan can help immensely! People just don’t know it yet!

    Keep up the good work!

    Liked by 1 person

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