Indoor Vertical Farms Are the (Very Expensive) Future of Food
Produce grown indoors could safeguard against shocks to the food supply
When Covid-19 forced many restaurants to close, demand for certain types of produce suddenly dropped: Eggs were smashed, onions were buried, and milk poured into drains. Farmers who had tailored their harvests to the demands of restaurants and event centers saw their usual orders evaporate. Meanwhile, grocery store demand exploded as people were forced to cook at home. As farmers struggled to pivot quickly, millions of tons of produce went to waste.
“Covid-19 exposed weaknesses in our complex logistics system of food distribution. Grocery store produce shelves stood empty as crops rotted in the field,” agronomist and crop scientist Nate Storey, PhD, tells Future Human. “We need to free our food supply from the constraints of weather, seasons, time, distance, pandemics, pests, natural disasters, seasons, and lack of control.”
Climate change, the increasing scarcity of arable land, and growing urban populations are also making traditional agriculture increasingly precarious and resource-inefficient. Storey believes there’s a better system — one in which a large percentage of our food is grown in multi-level indoor farms. He’s the co-founder and chief science officer of the vertical indoor farming company Plenty, one of many startups pursuing similar goals today.
Vertical indoor farming uses multi-story buildings stacked with growing containers and lights instead of outdoor land and sun. They can be located in urban centers, and they expand up, rather than out, to minimize land use. While outdoor plants must be bred for hardiness to withstand the elements and long-haul transport, indoor-grown plants can be bred almost exclusively for nutrition and flavor. Already, communities located near these farms are seeing high-quality produce year-round in their groceries, grown with no pesticides or herbicides and with reduced impact on the environment.
Because temperature, nutrients, and water can be given when optimal — not according to the…