The Future of Fresh: Urban Farming

The Future of Farming

The farm-to-table trend is being picked up by restaurants across the country, pushing the demand for locally sourced ingredients ever higher. In cities and deserts with limited access to farmland, urban farming is becoming an effective solution to the short supply of land suitable for growing food. Also known as vertical farming, this new technique takes rooftop gardening and multiplies it. By 12 stories, to be exact.

From Backyard to Plate

At a time where consuming healthy, locally sourced ingredients is becoming popular, urban farming caters to grocery stores, restaurants, distributors, and directly to consumers.

The presence of vertical farming facilities brings a new meaning to “locally grown.” They can be built in cities and industrialized places, putting fresh greens closer to consumers than ever and offering healthier options. This way, the need for transportation is dramatically reduced and produce stays fresh and undamaged as it is delivered farm to table.

Aerofarms, the largest vertical farming company in the US, is located in Newark, New Jersey and provides fresh greens to stores and restaurants in the New York City area. Their crops can be picked in the morning and be in your hands before noon. It doesn’t get any fresher than that!

...or does it? Germany-based Neofarms wants to take the concept one step further: their system is designed for your own kitchen, offering garden-to-table produce in a matter of minutes while taking up less space than a refrigerator. Smallhold, based in Brooklyn, is providing mini farms to restaurants to grow mushrooms for half the cost of distributor pricing. In Wyoming, Bright Argotech produces vertical farming equipment that is sold to restaurants so that they can grow their own mint, tomatoes, basil, cilantro, lettuce, parsley, and kale. Not only is the produce grown on-site, but the garden itself makes for a beautiful showpiece.

Growing Up Green

With the world population climbing steadily, resources like land and food are at risk of becoming a scarcity. It’s estimated that there will be 9 billion people in the world by the year 2050, and 70% of them will live in cities.

The concept of vertical farming has the potential to address the issues that will arise from these trends. Vertical farming is exactly what it sounds like: rather than expanding laterally, fields of greens extend upwards by stacking trays atop one another. The hydroponic system uses a mixture of dissolved nutrients to grow plants, eliminating soil and causing issues like soil erosion and agricultural runoff - the leading contributor to pollution in our oceans - to disappear.

Elements that dictate crop growth are no longer a concern; weather patterns and seasonal changes have no impact on a harvest. Inside of the facilities, every day is a sunny summer day thanks to the LED light systems and controlled indoor environment. Even better, the plants require little to no harmful pesticides and only a tiny fraction of the water needed for traditional farming.

This allows for fruits and veggies to be in season all year long. Chefs no longer have to wait until summer to serve fresh strawberries or overpay for out-of-season tomatoes. Seasonal dishes can still remain seasonal if so desired, but they are no longer limited to three months out of the year. Restaurants would be able to add new flavors and twists to their menu, appealing to a wider customer base year round.

In Conclusion...

Is vertical farming the future of food? For some crops, they answer may be yes. For others, experts argue that there is no substitute for good old-fashioned soil, water, and sunlight.

Right now, powering these facilities comes comes at a considerable cost - to both consumers and our planet. Restaurant owners who have invested in this new technology have yet to see if it will pay off. But for some, it’s less about the profit and more about the connection to the community and customers. Joining the farm to table movement is becoming more of a priority for restaurants. Customers appreciate the story behind their food and are often willing to pay more to help reduce our carbon footprint.

Keep an eye out for more vertical farms on the horizon - many more will be popping up in years to come.