Urban farms are nothing new, but a recent crop of city-friendly horticultural concepts could change the way the world eats within a generation. Vertical farms are indoor facilities that grow fresh produce using as little as 10 percent of the water consumed by traditional farms. Start-ups are converting abandoned buildings into vertical farms across the U.S. — and if they're successful, their models could help feed people in areas with food shortages around the world.
Farming has always been at the whim of the weather. Even the best modern practices and technologies can't save us from losing crops to drought, floods and unseasonable temperatures. And many areas have a hard time growing enough food to feed their populations due to other environmental factors, from soil composition to pollution levels.
With the world population on the rise, it's an increasingly significant problem. Although international programs to improve access to basic resources have reduced the global prevalence of undernourishment over the past 20 years, about 11 percent of the world's population still doesn't have enough to eat. That's 793 million people. Many of them live in developing nations and regions of political instability, but economic research shows that as many as 14 percent of households (or 48.1 million people) in the U.S. are also food insecure, meaning that they lack access to enough food for all household members to lead healthy, active lives.
As the Fw:Thinking video above explains, vertical farming isn't a perfect solution — yet. These indoor growing spaces present a host of difficulties for their creators to tackle, making the development process slow and expensive. Right now, profits are only possible by selling the produce to high-end restaurants and grocers like Whole Foods. But advances in hydroponic and aeroponic technologies (such as low-energy LED lamps) are making vertical farms more cost effective. Some entrepreneurs think that their methods could eventually be replicated anywhere, and they're engineering dozens of these farms around the U.S. alone to prove their plans. So one may soon be coming to a city near you.
Would you go out of your way to buy food that didn't have to go out of its way to get to you?