Skip to content
Sustainability β€” Food β€” Climate

🍏 "Are Vertical Farms a Real Solution?"


Photo by Erwan Hesry / Unsplash
Hosts: Tamar Haspel & Mike Grunwald
Category: 🍏 Sustainable Food | Vertical Farms

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[1:15] TH: "The whole point of vertical farms [...] is that we bring those plants indoors. And instead of using the sun, we use LED lighting that is optimized to make those plants grow and can actually be optimized for nutrients or flavor. And when you bring them inside and use artificial light, you can stack them up. So that same one acre of land, which can only grow one acre of crops out in the real world, can grow 10 acres or even more."

[5:11] TH: "For the most part, there's no soil [in vertical farms]. So all of the nutrients get delivered to the plants through water. Sometimes the roots are in water and the fertilizer goes in that water and that's hydroponic. Sometimes the roots are in the air, and they get misted with the water that has the nutrients, and that's aeroponic. [...] And because it's a controlled environment, for the most part, pathogens don't get in. [...] So the big benefits are cutting back on water to the tune of 90 or 95%, cutting back on fertilizer and pesticides nearly 100% and growing everything in the water and the air, so you know the dirt is out of the loop."

[6:43] MG: "Vertical farming is a tech play. It's robotics, it's artificial intelligence, it's drones, it's machine learning. [...] I think historically, there's been this incredible divide between food production and food consumption. [...] Farming is really risky and climate change is going to make it even riskier."

[12:00] TH: "A lot of the vertical farm guys aren't entirely forthcoming about their energy needs, [...] but an acre of crops needs about five acres of solar panels. And so if you have a vertical farm that has 10 layers of plants, you need 50 acres for a one acre warehouse."

[13:07] MG: "If you used all of the renewable energy that we have in the United States right now, so that's every solar panel, every wind turbine, comes out to more than 400 gigawatts, you could power vertical farms that could reliably grow 5% of the US tomato crop."

[18:10] MG: "I don't think people realize that [...] indoor farming is actually as big an industry now as the entire plant-based meat industry. [...] But so far, it's just a lettuce industry."

[23:22] TH: "They tried to grow wheat in an indoor environment. [...] But to grow $400,000 worth of wheat, they had to use what would have cost today's prices $75 million in electricity. [...] And of course, that tells you it's not viable financially, but it should just tell you it's not viable, period. Nobody's ever gonna grow the foods that matter in vertical farms."

[30:32] MG: "The allure of vertical farms, the allure of all indoor farming, is to try to solve the problems of outdoor farming. And really what vertical farms highlight is how screwed we are with global agriculture, in terms of its land use, in terms of its resource depletion, in terms of its impact on the environment and the climate. You can understand why people are grasping for vertical farms, because we're desperately in need of solutions for these other problems."

Rating: 🍏🍏🍏🍏

πŸŽ™οΈ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify | Google
πŸ•°οΈ 33 min | πŸ—“οΈ 07/19/2022
βœ… Time saved: 31 min