from cultured meat to plant-based foods through robotic assistants in the kitchen. Technology is entering every corner of our food system - I think it's a good thing, because we absolutely need ways to produce more food of better quality, and using fewer resources.
A rapidly spreading technology that is doing just that is vertical farming. The vertical farm uses LED lights and a heavily controlled indoor environment to grow produce with significantly less water, space or fertilizer than traditional farming.
There are vertical farms all over the world, from Singapore to the United Kingdom to the United States. And this week, the first phase of construction of what will be an important addition to the industry was completed.
The largest vertical farm in Europe
The new facility is located in Denmark, in an area called Taastrup just outside Copenhagen. At 7.000 square meters (just over 73.000 square feet), it will be the largest vertical farm in Europe. The crops will grow in 14-story-tall stacks, and will use more than 20.000 LED lights.
The farm technology comes from a Taiwanese vertical farming company called YesHealth Group, which collaborated with the Danish food technology company Nordic Harvest for this project.
Beyond the abundance of levels and lights, this vertical farmhouse takes automation to the next level. Little robots on wheels they will have the task of delivering the seeds to the various rows of stacked shelves. The sensors combined with intelligent software they will monitor and process more than 5.000 different parameters; for example the intensity of the LED light in relation to the stage of growth in which the plant is located.
Amid all of this, the vegetables will reportedly be grown using only one liter of water per kilogram of product.
It is 250 times less than the amount of water used in traditional agriculture.
They don't need to be watered - the plants are actually found in grow trays with their roots extending into shallow tubs of nutrient-rich water.
And all that LED light? It comes from electricity generated by the wind; nearly half of Denmark's total energy it comes from the wind and the creators of the farm believed that using this sustainable energy source was the optimal choice.
The vertical farm, an "antidote" to modern times
As emphasized the Web site by Nordic Harvest, Western consumers are spoiled. We have grown accustomed to buying and eating whatever fruit and vegetables we desire at any time of the year. Blueberries in February? Of course! Oranges in July? Why not! Out-of-season products cost us a little more at our local grocery store, and probably arrive by plane or shipped from thousands of miles away.
To get these fresh foods from point A to point B, needless to say, the waste is enormous. From wasted fuel to emissions, from keeping fruit or vegetables fresh and pest-free for travel, to using chemicals to keep them fresh for longer, this system puts both the environment and the food to the test.
The vertical farm will change the rules of the game
Of course, they may not be able to grow everything that is grown under the sun. For now, vertical farms are mostly limited to vegetables like lettuce, spinach, kale, etc.
But they will be able to grow the same quantity and quality of crops all year round, and with them we will redefine the meaning of zero km food. If they develop enough they can even contribute to the reforestation of some agricultural land today.
Also per the Nordic Harvest website, if there were multiple sites like Taastrup and they grew the equivalent of 20 football fields, Denmark would be "self-sufficient in salads and herbs". An end to imports, waste and environmental problems. Today only 30% of Danish consumption of these products is grown domestically.
The vertical farm in Taastrup will not only grow local produce, it will grow them rapidly. The facility plans to harvest the stratified fields 15 times a year. It will be a total production of 1.000 tons per year.
This type of growing method is not affected by the climate, so you can plan and have a real harvest calendar.
The plant expects to start production in the first quarter of 2021, and to become profitable as early as next year, reaching its full capacity within the first 12 months.