5 Farms Pushing the Boundaries of Indoor Agriculture

Bright Farms Courtesy of Bright Farms

Bright Farms
Courtesy of Bright Farms

Indoor farms are the new and innovative way to grow greens. Modern indoor farms are quite large and filled with state-of-the-art technologies – they aren’t the tiny greenhouses of yesteryear.

We’ve rounded up five, indoor farms to give you a taste of what some of the most innovative growing organizations are producing.

1. Bright Farms 

Bright Farms has built its state-of-the-art farming facilities in seven cities. Bright Farms specializes in creating farms that conserve land and water. The Farms also are designed to “eliminate agricultural runoff” and to “reduce greenhouse gas emission from transportation.” Bright Farms has partnered with CropKing (specialists in controlled environment agriculture), Hort Americas (provides products to greenhouse growers), NetSuite (software company), and Nexus Greenhouse Systems (produces affordable greenhouse structures) to ensure it produces top-notch facilities Read more

Montana Aquaponics Venture Grows Slowly by Keeping it Simple

Mark Winchel tends to his aquaponics system. Photo courtesy of Aquaponics North.

Mark Winchel tends to his aquaponics system. Photo courtesy of Aquaponics North.

Growing produce year-round in northwest Montana may sound complicated, but the owner of Aquaponics North, Mark Winchel, is keeping it simple.

Before turning to aquaponics, Winchel ran a horticultural business for 23 years and has learned that one of the biggest mistakes an entrepreneur could make is trying to grow too fast, too soon—putting the cart before the horse, as he says.

“We know better now,” says Winchel. “We’re just doing this one step at a time. That goes all the way down our business plan, from what we’re going to grow and how to set our systems up; just very simple, as few steps as possible.” Read more

Canadian Hydroponic Startup Perfects Cubic Farming System

Inside a converted barn or grocery store basement, the growing cubes are stacked horizontally and vertically for the best use of space. Photo Courtesy of Urban Barns

Inside a converted barn or grocery store basement, the growing cubes are stacked horizontally and vertically for the best use of space. Photo Courtesy of Urban Barns

On the verge of opening their new Quebec store, Canadian startup Urban Barns looks set to be a leader in the sustainable grocery store industry, both in Canada and the United States.

After careful planning and four years of intense research and development, Urban Barns launched in 2012 with a goal of growing produce as close to customers as possible. Initially, Urban Barns wants to sell sustainable leafy greens to the wholesale market. They believe their patented growing cubes are the perfect way to do that.

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Urban Farming Startup Sees Opportunity in Aeroponic Tower to Increase Local Food Production in New Orleans

Image Credit: VertiFarms

Image Credit: VertiFarms

Fresh produce in New Orleans usually arrives from places like California or Florida. One company wants to change that.

Vertifarms began providing aeroponic farms for New Orleans food businesses in 2011, when company co-founders Doug Jacobs and Kevin Morgan-Rothschild began partnering with Florida-based FutureGrowing to bring aeroponic tower systems to restaurants, markets, grocery stores, and non-profit organizations that want to grow their own local crops.

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Singapore Strives to Promote Food Security in Face of Land Scarcity

The island city-state of Singapore is known as one of the most rapidly developing countries in the world. With 5.3 million people living on 275 square miles of land, Singapore is also one of the most densely populated countries in the world. With so many people living on such a small island, there is little room for agricultural production. Singapore imports more than 90 percent of its food and relies heavily on the food production capabilities of neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, explained Jackson Ewing during a webinar on the unique challenges of food security in Singapore offered by the Global Innoversity. Ewing is a research fellow and coordinator of the Food Security Programme at the Center for Non-Traditional Security Studies in Singapore.

“This means that as regional food security goes, so goes the food security of Singapore,” he said. Southeast Asia is a major exporter of fruits, vegetables, and fish and is home to two of the largest rice exporters in the world, Thailand and Vietnam. With a lengthy growing season and ample rain, the region is quite fertile. However, increased land-use competition, shifting socio-economic trends, and a rapidly changing climate all contribute to a degree of food instability in the region.

Land-Use Competition

In recent decades, Southeast Asian countries have seen a major surge in growth of urban environments. Many rural residents have left their farming roots to strike out a new path in rapidly expanding urban areas. Thirty years ago, urban areas covered just over 20 percent of the region’s land. Today, about half of the land in Southeast Asia has become urbanized, Ewing said. While cities have grown, a dwindling number of farmers have been left behind to try to feed more people on less land.

At the same time, large multinational corporations have moved into the region and have introduced modern agricultural techniques including large-scale monoculture. In some areas, land previously used for agricultural production has been converted to commodity crops such as rubber and oil palm. While oil palm is used around the region as cooking oil, much of the area’s oil palm is exported for use as a biofuel and as an additive in cosmetics, shampoos, soaps, and processed food products. “These plantations are coming into direct competition with agriculture… and are creating a situation of greater land scarcity overall,” Ewing said.

Socio-Economic Shifts

In addition to changing the regional food production landscape, modern farming technologies have affected food distribution as well. Large farming operations with modern processing and refrigeration infrastructure have paved the way for a rapid explosion of supermarkets and as a result a general reduction in food prices. “In the urban zones of course, food price declines are lauded while in rural ones, they are lamented,” said Ewing. Most traditional farmers are not equipped to participate in that kind of marketplace. Many small farmers that once sold their produce at local wet markets now have difficulty keeping their wares fresh long enough to get to the supermarket; if they are able to get there they struggle to compete with the low prices offered by modern farms.

As food prices have declined and availability has increased with the arrival of supermarkets, urban residents has been able to greatly diversify their diets. “This is a real positive in some regards for nutrition and quality of life, but it also leads to greater demands on the physical spaces for producing things like butter, energy, and other high energy inputs that are necessary for producing meat,” Ewing said.

Environmental Pressures

Environmental stresses and the changing climate further complicate the region’s ability to produce enough food to go around. In many areas, dwindling availability of arable land has driven farmers to plant crops on sloped grounds that are particularly susceptible to topsoil erosion. Deforestation has resulted in changes the microclimates and expanded pockets of water scarcity.

Global climate change has affected not only the intensity of storm systems, but also the direction and pathways of devastating typhoons. “We are getting storms in areas of the Philippines and now southeast areas of Vietnam where traditional typhoons have never been an issue. These are large agriculture production zones on which Singapore and other food importers depend,” Ewing said. Gradual sea level rise combined with groundwater extraction, and river damming has increased soil salinity in major agricultural areas along the Mekong River and Red River deltas.

Investing in Regional Food Security

Singapore is not the only country relies on food exports from Southeast Asia. China and several countries in the Middle East have bought large tracts of land in Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar to produce food for export back to the domestic markets in their home countries. Singapore has consciously avoided these tactics, instead opting to forge partnerships with regional nations, Ewing said. In these partnerships, a portion of the crops is exported to Singapore. In exchange, the Singaporean government helps to facilitate domestic distribution within the producing nations.

In Singapore, the government and local universities have recently begun to invest in food security research and new food production technologies. The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore has initiated aquaculture research and development on several of the nation’s smaller uninhabited islands off the coast of the main island. Private entrepreneurs have begun to invest in urban vertical farming as a means of increasing domestic vegetable production. “I think it is possible for this area to become something of a thought leader and an area which could participate in producing technologies in the food science space and the urban agriculture space that could be exported in the future,” Ewing said.

While some hope to preserve traditional farming techniques, Ewing cautions against the assumption that small scale farming populations want a perpetuation of traditional lifestyles and subsistence farming. “The problem with that narrative is that if we discuss with farmers what they actually want, they would like higher incomes they would like higher production levels. They would like to see some of their children be able to go to universities or cities and leave the agrarian lifestyle,” he said. In the face of finite land resources, increasing demand, and changing climate, farmers will likely have to think creatively to see higher yields.

Ewing expects genetically modified (GM) food will likely play a role in the future regional agricultural landscape. While European and North American nations fiercely debate the pros and cons of GM foods such as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready® corn and soybeans, to many Singaporeans and Southeast Asians GM crops hold the potential to meet regional food demand in the face of increasing temperature and changing precipitation patterns. While Singaporeans place a high value on the quality of their food, so far there has been no significant push for organically produced food or traditional cultivars that have been seen in much of the Western world, Ewing said. “I think that the Singaporean consumer would be prepared to purchase GM foods on a large scale provided that they saw the quality as being high and the price low,” he added.

While in past decades Singapore has remained a passive player in the regional food system, it is clear that it will play an ever increasing role in the future evolution of the region’s agriculture.

This post was originally published on Seedstock.com: http://seedstock.com/2013/06/21/singapore-strives-to-promote-food-security-in-face-of-land-scarcity/

Vertical Farming Venture Acahieves Sustainability and Success in New Buffalo, Michigan

Basil and Lettuce, neighbors in different vertical growing systems at Green Spirit Farms. Photo credit: Green Spirit Farms.

Basil and Lettuce, neighbors in different vertical growing systems at Green Spirit Farms. Photo credit: Green Spirit Farms.

According to Green Spirit Farms‘ Research and Development Manager Daniel Kluko, the future of farming is heading in one clear direction: vertical. “If we want to feed hungry people this is how we need to farm,” said Kluko.

Kluko believes that vertical farming offers a very important benefit in today’s world of scarce land and resources— the potential for unparalleled plant density. After all, how else can a farmer grow 27 heads of lettuce in one square foot of growing space?

Green Spirit Farms was started by Daniel’s father Milan Kluko under his engineering company Fountainhead Engineering LTD. The idea for the farm emerged while the company was evaluating indoor, urban farm models in North America for a non-profit client—a process which piqued Milan Kluko’s interest about the viability of a vertical farming operation. Read more

Detroit Urban Farming Enterprise, RecoveryPark, Poised to Revitalize East Side and Create 18,000

recoveryparklogoThe east side of Detroit, like much of the rest of the city, is in dire need of recovery.

The land is dotted with vacant and abandoned homes. The economy is in tatters. Unemployment, infant mortality, poverty, crime, and drug abuse are major challenges facing the dwindling population.

This is the land capitalism left behind.

A new enterprise combining urban farming, substance abuse rehabilitation, and an alternative economic model is attempting to provide that recovery on the many fronts in which it is needed. Read more

Vertical Farming Visionary Dr. Dickson Despommier Talks Challenges and Opportunities

despommier article image“Vertical farming isn’t futuristic; it’s already here,” says vertical farming visionary, Dr. Dickson Despommier. “In 2004 we put the idea on the internet and only got three hits on Google.” Eight years later that same search query on Google now yields 29,800,000 hits.

Although recently retired from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Dr. Despommier shows no signs of slowing down. He continues to spread awareness to universities, municipalities, architects and agricultural specialists on the importance of ecological principles in vertical farming design and introduce his sustainable vision for our future cities.

I recently sat down with Dr. Despommier to discuss his vision for vertical farms, whether certain locales are better suited for farms of this type, his studies on the correlation between unsustainable cultivation and rapid deforestation, and more. Read more

Could Atmospheric Water Generation Power the Farms of the Future?

Most folks, farmers or otherwise, had their first introduction to vapor farms in the hit movie series “Star Wars.” Vapor farming is no longer a thing of science fiction. In fact, its an emerging industry that could change the way the world views water. We interviewed three of the top rated atmospheric water generation (AWG) system producers in the industry to better understand not only the technology, but its potential for sustainable agriculture. Atmospheric Water Systems, Inc. (AWS), EcoloBlue, Inc. and Island Sky Corporation happily explained their systems and the potential of AWG for modern farming.

Atmospheric water is exactly what it sounds like: water from the earth’s atmosphere. Everything contains water and everything has a dew point, the point at which vapor in the air condenses into liquid form. Read more

Through Local Sourcing and Hydroponic Towers, Urban Farmer Delivers Fresh Produce to South Florida

Vertical growing systems that The Urban Farmer organization placed on a 1-acre lot of industrial property in Broward County. Photo Credit: Urban Farmer.

In many urban areas across the nation, access to fresh, locally grown and produced food is difficult to come by, and South Florida is no exception. Seeing an opportunity to address challenges to local food availability in this area, The Urban Farmer, a Pompano Beach, Fla.-based organization that grows and sources locally grown food, was launched to meet the demands of South Florida residents for locally and sustainably grown food.  While The Urban Farmer is still in startup mode, it’s garnering support and keeping afloat because of its founders’ love of educating – and feeding – Floridians awesome, local produce.

I recently got in touch with Stephen Hill, a principal at The Urban Farmer, to find out how and why the organization was founded, how Urban Farmer serves Florida and what the organization has planned for the 2013 season. Read more