The Next Big Thing(s)

October 27, 2017

Shanghai VF Training CenterProgress towards establishing long-term, sustainable, local, safe food systems based on indoor farming (CEA) has taken several important steps towards that goal over the last two years, most notably with the establishment of AeroFarms in Newark, New Jersey, and more recently, with the financing of Plenty, a San Francisco-based vertical farm business, that succeeded in raising $200 million US in startup funds. In both cases, investment capital has come from a variety of sources – Goldman Sacks, The Prudential Life Insurance Company, SoftBank of Japan, and Amazon.com. It is likely that these two entities will establish themselves as major players in the indoor farming industry over the next few years. Europe has recently experienced a significant amount of activity in the establishment of CEA facilities, as well. INFARM is a vertical farm located in Berlin with big ambitions, and they are well on their way to achieving their goal. Their slogan says it all:

We are the new farmers and the city is our farm.”

Their vision includes the construction of vertical farms combined with wholesale grocery stores as single building complexes. Food on demand is their ultimate goal, and with the help of the German government, including assistance from the German Space Agency, they may just get their wish. Many others are at various stages of planning/fund-raising, and will surely announce their presence within the next few years. In fact, there are currently so many VF startups that a shortage of qualified workers is now the main impediment to accelerating the establishment of new indoor farms.

To address the labor shortage issue, The University of Arizona Center for Controlled Agriculture is in the midst of establishing an experimental vertical farm in association with the defunct Biosphere 2 complex. Drs. Gene Giacomelli and Murat Kacia will serve as its co-directors. The training center will ultimately serve as a nexus for graduate research aimed at improving technologies that further the development of indoor agriculture. Other universities have also established research programs in vertical farming (e.g., University of Nottingham, Ohio State University, and Cornell University). The city of Shanghai has embraced CEA as a major part of part of its long-term solution to insuring a sustainable, healthy food supply. City planners have let it be known that Shanghai will become the epicenter for creating a cadre of indoor farmers by constructing a comprehensive training center (designed by Sasaki Architects) in the newly industrialized Sunqiao Urban Agricultural District along the banks of the Yinjiabank Canal. This modern Chinese city promises to become the “gold standard” for urban centers that express a desire to become independent of the global food system. The Vertical Farming Institute located in Vienna, Austria, functions by helping design and plan new VF facilities throughout Europe.

Over the next ten years or so, I have every reason to anticipate, given the rapid growth of the concept of vertical farming, that Vfs will become a part of the skyline of most large cities, world-wide. When that becomes the norm, our grandchildren will live in a world that provides them and their families with a reliable, safe, abundant, varied food supply, and at the same time, allowing them to enjoy the beauty and wonder of a restored natural environment. Rejoice. The process of re-wilding has begun!

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