Vertical Farming. So what is it anyway? and what does it have to do with us Israeli citizens? sure we take pride in our agriculture system (with all of its flaws and lack of governmental support) and sure Israel is regarded as the ‘Start-up Nation’. But what I find most intriguing is how we could actually build ON-TOP of that, how we can take advantage of the things we already know and do pretty well - and take them to the next level. Because when first implemented on a local scale; neighborhoods, warehouses and schools, Vertical Farming could disrupt the current food system in that bottom-up fashion, setting communities in the heart of the operation.
We could never truly discard the way we currently grow and deliver agricultural produce though. That is because farmers, kosher supervision Institutions, distribution centers, supermarkets chains and consumers all operate in a system that since its inception was built for supplying goods as effectively, in the lowest cost and on the largest scale possible while still generating revenue along the supply chain. It comes with no surprise that there are so many holes in the system - we no longer recognize ourselves within that system; there are too many middlemen, we grow out of touch with our produce, prices are going up rather than down and truly fresh produce is scarce.
As already mentioned, the most viable solution on today’s menu is the concept of Vertical Farming as it was coined by Dr. Dickson Despommier. Since the Vertical Farming industry is doing its first baby steps through the global economy, the term refers to any agricultuiral method that grows food in a vertical manner instead of traditionally growing it on the ground. When someone mentions vertical farming, for me the first thing that comes to mind is the picture of Aerofarms’ facility in Newark, the world’s largest vertical farm. Most of today’s vertical farms are not exceptionally different from Aerofarms’, except the latter use Airoponics in their fertigation system. Aerofarms use vertically-stacked layered rack systems that sprays the roots of the plant with a nutrient solution absorbed into special cloth on which the plant is growing. LED lighting fixtures, calibrated to deliver the right lighting spectrum, replace the sun as the produce is grown indoors. Lastly, an HVAC system (Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) keeps the temperature, moisture, CO2 and O2 levels in just the right level using a smart system that monitors almost everything while correcting itself if the system goes off-balance.
Aerofarms are truly great but keep in mind that this is quite the norm in Vertical Farms across the US, Europe, Japan and other countries, predominantly Singapore, Hong-Kong and China. There are all sorts and types of Vertical Farms out there; rooftop farms, Underground farms, indoor farms and greenhouse farms, each one has its own advantages and disadvantages. Some of the methods are better used in a cost effective scheme, others would be best in specific regions of the world with certain climate or maybe it's in the outskirts of a city that one of them should be built rather than downtown.
A rooftop-farm for instance, could be a great solution in a sunny region like ours, eliminating the need for still-pretty expensive LED lighting, yet the bureaucracy involved in setting a revenue-generating farm on top of a roof is a challenge people face whatever the specificities of the local regulation system demand. A good example would be the New-York Based Sky Vegetables farm, they too like so many other Vertical Farms, are busy proving their economic viability in the long-run to their share-holders. Some countries would push their agriculture indoors out of pure necessity, countries like Japan when after the Fukoshima disaster was left with no arable land in the region surrounding ground-zero to feed the local population. This is why Japan became one of the best countries to prove the world that food can be grown anywhere and in greater efficiency. Furthermore, Japan is a great example of the positive ripple-effect government subsidiary policy can have on what is considered as their next generation of farmers.
If we continue with this thread of thought, Singapore is yet another great example of how can a country that small could take its future in its own hands. Because with little physical space they clearly have, they managed to grow all types of leafy green and vegetables, further cutting their dependence on imported goods. This model benefits the local economy by creating new jobs, producing highly nutritious food and minimizing carbon foot-print and pollution to nearly zero. Germany is where the world’s first indoor farm was introduced, Infarm are growing and selling their produce literally steps away from the vegetable aisle in a Berlin supermarket just behind the famous Berghain night club. Courageously running this venture are the Galonska brothers and Osnat Michaely, three Israeli entrepreneurs and founders on a mission to remodel the way we consume and buy our produce, becoming ever-more aware of the possibilities that are within our grasp to further minimize friction along the supply chain.
Finally, if we find the courage to take a step back we could connect the dots between research and development endeavors held by Institutions to existing know-how kept by local farmers. If we intelligently merge this with the IoT trend sweeping the Israeli high-tech ecosystem, there are literally no boundaries to what could be achieved. The knowledge is there, it is wandering within the corridors of university laboratories, up and down the sky-rises of Rotchild Avenue and out in the sun swept fields of Chevel Habsor. All we need is to build upon progress others have graciously made for us already.
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