Roof To Fork: Vertical Farming

The urban agriculture industry is in transition. Rising demand for energy efficiency and a new generation of creative young farmers are leading to innovative changes to how food is produced and distributed.

The Emerging Professionals Committee at Urban Green invited Howard Brin (Chief Farming Officer of NYSeed, a green development startup) to give our members an inside look at the vertical farming movement. A complementary approach to conventional farming, vertical farms rely on stacked rows of farm space and controlled environment agriculture (CEA) technology to produce food within urban environments.

Urban Green's Emerging Professionals listening to Howard Brin

From Top Down and the Bottom Up

Today, two approaches to vertical farming are reaching a global convergence. In top-down development, mainly among Asian countries, the government sector is driving the industry forward through increased research and funding. Bottom-up development is taking place mostly among European Union countries and North America, with growth emerging from the private sector. In both cases, education has become a global issue due to a shortage of sufficient training programs and a well-trained workforce.

One group that’s lifting vertical farming from below is Teens for Food Justice in Brooklyn, a grassroots organization that works to bring food equity to local communities where access to healthy food is a significant challenge. Designed and operated by the group, the program helps educate and empower youth to be on the front line of urban farming by becoming a part of the agricultural community.

Show Me the Greens

Education and training alone are not enough to make vertical farming a viable option. This nascent  industry is still capital-intensive and in need of successful financing models. In this regard, cities can play a key role by developing codes and regulations that foster the innovative building solutions required by vertical farms.

In the North American market, vertical farming is projected to double in the next year. While they are generally limited to growing leafy greens in order to be financially sound, most vertical farms are able to grow tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, and cucumbers at scale, albeit at higher price points.

Potential Pillars of the Community

As consumers increasingly seek out locally sourced food, the appeal of integrating vertical farming into cities has grown. In addition to supplementing the food system, vertical farming can create new jobs and improve methods for tracing our food sources.

As we face a national decline in the number of young farmers in the U.S., vertical farms provide a unique opportunity for a new generation to become involved in agriculture. And, as some of those same young people move into cities, hydroponics, greenhouses, and vertical farming may offer ways for food producers to join the urban communities they’re helping to feed.

About the authors

Kiumars Amiri
Kiumars Amiri is a member of Urban Green's Emerging Professionals Programs Committee.