The spring of my freshman year of college I took an International Politics class. This class was memorable for a number of reasons - first and foremost because it was the class that spurred me to switch my major from Biology to International Relations. However, this class was also the first time that I had the global food issue explained to me. I remember quite clearly my professor saying "there is no global food shortage. There is only a distribution problem."
That realization hit me quite hard. How can so many people be dying of hunger because of a distribution issue, not because of a food shortage? It seems like there must be a solution to something as simple as distribution. Of course, distribution is anything but simple ... but it certainly seems like it must be simpler than generating more food.
Well, given the fact that as of 2017 we have yet to solve the distribution issue, I'm pleased to see some companies working on the growing more food side of things. That's where vertical farms come in.
Vertical farms are attempting to fundamentally change the way we approach agriculture. In a world with rapidly growing populations land is going to become even more and more of a premium resource, and more and more people are going to move into cities. Vertical farms would reduce the amount of land dedicated to farming, and put farms closer to major population centers.
In general, vertical farms consist of vertical greenhouses that are able to take up much less land to grow substantially more food. They also tend to use less water than traditional farms, the plants tend to grow faster, and they can harvest year-round.
AeroFarms is one of the current leaders in vertical agriculture, and boast the world's largest indoor vertical farm, with a total of 70,000 sq ft of floor space in New Jersey. AeroFarms grows their plants in BPA-free, post-consumer recycled, reusable cloth and uses 95% less water than field farming and 40% less water than hydroponic farming, and zero pesticides. They create a specific LED light recipe for each type of plant, and constantly monitor macro- and micro-nutrients for each plant. Through this level of care AeroFarms is able to grow plants to maturity in half the time as it would take in the field, which they calculate leads to 130 times more productivity per square foot than a commercial field farm.
Another benefit of vertical farms is that they don't use pesticides - they have no need to, since the plants are grown in a completely controlled environment. This not only means that all plants are organic, but also that there is no agricultural runoff. Agricultural runoff is one of the main causes of pollution in the oceans, and can cause dead zones in oceans. Eutrophication, an increase in chemical nutrients in the water, causes excessive blooms of algae which then deplete underwater oxygen levels and create a hypoxic (lacking oxygen) zone. The hypoxic zone is then unable to support underwater marine life and it becomes a dead zone.
Vertical Farms are certainly not yet able to solve the global food crisis, but as the technology improves and gets cheaper and more readily available, it could help. Vertical farms have the potential to be set up in every major city and population center, and grow food despite weather conditions, which may be even more necessary due to changes in the climate in the future.