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Feeding Cities – with Indoor Vertical Farms?

staanlGreenhouse and Garden, by Stanley Spencer, 1937.

I take strong issue with those who go to great lengths trying to convince everyone this is the solution to world hunger, fresh water challenges, and agriculture’s contribution to climate change. I have perused a number of websites focused on vertical indoor farming and have found very little beyond platitudes.

By Michael W. Hamm: C.S. Mott Professor of Sustainable Agriculture – Michigan State University and Past Director of the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems.
Food Climate Research Centre
Mar 30, 2015


At the end of this analysis I am at a loss to understand why indoor vertical farms with 100% artificial light have seemed like such a good idea when there are so many other pressing issues to research if we are going to have a sustainable, resilient and secure food supply globally and within our respective nations. I am unable to find evidence that 100% artificially lit systems are a priori a solution for feeding cities and their environs. The environmental cost (judged only by carbon footprint in this case) is clearly higher than other strategies. It seems a shame that public policy or public research dollars would be diverted to 100% artificially lit systems. A better use of time, resources, and capital with greater potential for long-term impact is continued development of controlled to semi-controlled environments with the sun as the basis of production.

Whether it is greenhouses with supplemental light and heat; hoop houses with neither supplementary heat nor light; as well as the range of variations between – these offer the more environmentally sustainable options. They can be sited in urban areas on abandoned land (link is external) or rooftops (link is external)and in the surrounding peri-urban and near-rural areas. In higher latitudes, these types of growing environments allow land-use over the full year instead of simply the normal, outdoor growing season (depending on your climate) – a form of sustainable intensification for city regions.

There are still a range of complex issues – both with technology and human capital – to improve these greenhouse and hoop house systems. These include small-scale equipment to improve efficiency of in-ground production, technology to help producers easily analyze their costs of production for various crops, continued improvement to the technological infrastructure across the range of sun-based indoor strategies, small-scale energy co-generation strategies for supplemental heat and light. These greenhouse and hoophouse systems and strategies have a real potential to improve the sustainability and resilience of our food system. They have a real potential to help supply a healthy diet in city regions across the globe. They have a real potential to help insure sustainable livelihoods for a diversity of farmers in city regions. This is clearly not the case for 100% artificially lit systems. No, there is no such thing as a free lunch – no matter how much experts contend otherwise.

Read the complete article here.