See 9 stunning vertical farms that could solve the planet's food crisis.

For as long as most people can remember, horizontal farming has been the only way to go.

But now, farmers are discovering that while horizontal fields of crops are beautiful, they might not be the best use of space.

As roots spread out across the ground, they leave a lot of unused real estate overhead. So what's stopping us from stacking our crops like densely-packed cities? Well, sunlight, for one. And gravity. Soil too.


But once that's all figured out? Perpendicular planting could be a much more efficient way to grow food.

What does vertical farming look like? Here are nine farms that are going above and beyond with their indoor produce systems:

Photo via Kirsten Dirksen/YouTube.

1. VertiCrop

VertiCrop was the first big company to kick off the vertical urban farming trend, stacking shelves upon shelves of delicious greens that could produce up to 20 times the crop yield with only about 8% of the water of a comparable horizontal garden setup. Time magazine even named it as one of the world's greatest inventions in 2009.

Though the company had some financial trouble, they definitely set a high bar for the power of this kind of sustainable farming.

Photo by Valcenteu/Wikimedia Commons.

2. Growing Power Aquaponic System

This aquaponic system takes advantage of the existing symbiotic relationship between plants and animals.

The pump pulls water from a five-foot-deep pool to feed multiple layers of plants — in this case, watercress and tomatoes — then drips back down into the pool again, where the fresh oxygen helps to feed the tilapia in the tank below. It's like a little self-contained and portable ecosystem! (Also, the fish poo works as fertilizer.)

Photo by Ryan Griffis/Flickr.

3. Wigan UTC Hydroponic Vertical Farm

This is believed to be the world's first educational vertical farm, where curious students can study, train, and experiment in farming progress.

At Wigan, a British university, the setup boasts a rotating soilless conveyor belt system, temperature and lighting controls, and even a state-of-the-art kitchen where students can actually start to develop recipes for the future (which may or may not include the delicious aquaponic fish they're raising as well — mmmm, space salmon).

Photo via Wellcome Trust/YouTube.

4. DIY Windowfarms

These vertical windowfarms are catching on in major cities where everything is already stacked up tall and tight — 'cause hey, if it works for people in a city, why can't it work for plants? There are plenty of online communities offering tips, tricks, and instructions, but the basic idea is that you can set up rows of recyclable drip-water systems in the comfort of your own home. All you need is a window, some old plastic bottles, and string.

Photo by SparkCBC/Flickr.

5. The Land at Epcot Center

That's right, even the mouse himself is getting in on the vertical farming action. And they're actually doing lots of cool research and experiments too! Plus, sometimes they make hydroponic mouse-shaped pumpkins.

Photo by Paul Goings/Flickr.

6. Bright AgroTech Zip Farm

These innovators found a cool new way to make their vertical farming even more vertical. They're not just stacking horizontal flowerbeds upright: They use zip ties to create vertical planes that grow crops outward.

Photo via Bright AgroTech/YouTube.

7. Green Sense Farms

Whoa, is that pink?! Green Sense Farms uses specially-made red and blue diodes to amplify the actual light rays that help plants grow. 'Cause who needs a full spectrum of colors when two of them can do the job even better?

Photo via The Good Stuff/YouTube.

8. Pasona Group Urban Farm

While vertical farms are great for making optimal use of space, what do you do in a place as densely-packed as Tokyo, where there's no room to build from the ground up? Simple: Start growing food in office buildings, like the folks at Kono Designs have done.

Not only does it produce some delicious crops, but employees are generally happier with the fresh oxygen in the air and the affective lighting. It's like being outdoors, but in an office!

Photo via Kirsten Dirksen/YouTube.

9. AeroFarms

Last but not least, built inside a former laser tag arena just outside New York City, AeroFarms is known as the planet's largest indoor vertical farm to date, with the ability to grow 75 times more crops per square foot while using 95% less water.

Their system relies on an aeroponic mist instead of standard soil and uses concentrated LED lights, and — oh yeah — it's also being used to provide affordable food to underserved communities. Win.

Rendering from AeroFarms. Used with permission.

Vertical farming doesn't just look cool — it's solving some serious planetary problems, and not a moment too soon.

This kind of urban agriculture is innovative and beautiful, which is great. But it's also a major step forward in addressing our impending food and population crises.

Between climate change and our rapidly increasing influx, some estimates suggest farmers will need to nearly double their crop output by 2050 if our civilization expects to survive — all while more than a quarter of our available farmland is already falling apart.

And while that sounds like a scary situation, these vertical farms are making sure we move upward and onward, so these kinds of problems can go right over our heads.

Learn more about the future of our plants and our planet in the video below:

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.