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:
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.
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.)
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).
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.