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World's largest vertical farm opens in Chicago

Wednesday 03 April 2013


The world's largest vertical farm opened in the suburbs of Chicago last month. FarmedHere, which opened its doors in late March, claims to be ushering in a new era of farming, which will address the most pressing problems associated with the current agricultural paradigm.


 Indoor farming uses much less water, but extra energy is required to provide lightAccording to the UN, 80 percent of the world's population will live in urban areas by 2050. The planet is expected to be home to 9 billion people by that time, and finding ways to provide enough food whilst avoiding environmental collapse is proving to be one of the most challenging conundrums currently facing humanity.


As populations become more urbanised, exponents of vertical farming in cities believe that shifting agriculture into towns will help protect the environment by reducing the amount of land needed for farming, whilst providing more affordable healthy food with a reduced ecological footprint, made possible through cutting transport costs and, in many cases, direct selling.   


FarmedHere makes use of closed-cycle systems; plants are grown using hydroponics and water is cleaned by tilapia fish, which also provide fertiliser to grow crops. CEO Jolanta Hardej, who already owns two much smaller vertical farming enterprises, said the new farm would create an estimated 200 jobs thanks to training and work in cooperation with other urban agriculture projects in the city.


The 8,400 m2 indoor farm is situated in a converted warehouse in Bedford Park, a south-western suburb of Chicago. The farm is set to produce 500,000 kg of leafy greens each year, according to its designers. The crops, including spinach and basil, are grown without pesticide, but are also produced without soils or access to natural light.


A staunch advocate of urban farming, Hardej said the vertical farm's focus is very much on sustainable food production. She explained, "The [crops'] roots are sprayed with water with nutrients that come from fish. Our water savings are tremendous; we use about ten percent the water of a traditional agricultural system."


She added, "We are the first and only USDA organic certified commercial aquaponic farm in the united States. No chemicals, no pesticides, no herbicides are being used."  


However, with the largest of its kind still boasting less than one hectare growing area, the vertical farm does not look set to change the United States' agricultural paradigm just yet. In the case of FarmedHere, the reliance on artificial light, in contrast to the 'greenhouse' model adopted by some vertical farming projects such as the Plantagon which is set to be built in Linköping, Sweden, has led critics to question the business' green credentials and cost effectiveness.


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