Strawberries grown in an office block: vertical farming a more sustainable harvesting technique?

Vertical farms with their LED lit rooms and shelves of stacked plants contrast harshly with the image of green fields and brightly coloured crops that span acres and acres. But recent research has suggested that it may pose as a more sustainable method for the future. 

Vertical farms are now growing rapidly, with many new units being set up around the world. One such farm located in New Jersey is growing strawberries that have taken off in high end New York supermarkets for £44 a crate, making this type of farming a possible future competitor to those sourced in the more traditional method.

The potential for this new method to be more sustainable and environmentally friendly means that it may be the way forward. But what makes this sci-fi like farming technique greener than crop filled fields? 

Pesky pesticides:

As vertical farms provide a bug free clean environment the need for pesticides is negated. This is a huge benefit when it comes to trying to reduce the impact on the planet and on our health.

Pesticides are harmful to so many species, starting in the soil. For the majority of us, chemicals such as fertilisers causing biodiversity loss in the soil, doesn’t seem to be like a big deal in the grand scheme of things. But unfortunately, the decline in the number and variety of species in the soil has a bigger knock-on effect on the wider ecosystem than one would think. As the name would suggest, pesticides are toxic to many insects including honeybees. Most of the chemicals that are used are broad spectrum meaning that they don’t discriminate between insects and so negatively impact species that are not the intended target.

“Although pesticides were used initially to benefit human life through increase in agricultural productivity and by controlling infectious disease, their adverse effects have overweighed the benefits associated with their use” Gill and Garg, 2014

 No such thing as “in season”

Manipulation of factors such as lighting and temperature, means that crops can be grown and harvested all year round, which may in turn help to reduce the air miles. In the UK we rely heavily on the transportation of fruit and veg from other countries that have better climates, but vertical farms pose a potential solution to this greenhouse gas emitting practice.

In addition to these factors, there are benefits in terms of better use of space and lower water usage, which all contribute to the view that vertical farming may be the environmentally friendly way to go.


However, there are considerations that need to be taken.

Firstly there are concerns over how green this whole practice is in reality, as they consume a lot of energy and require high amounts of infrastructure.  While they are able to produce crops all year round the challenge comes when they need to keep down their energy costs and usage when the alternative outdoor farming becomes viable in the spring and summer months and uses the free sunlight and rainwater. In addition to this, vertical farms’ reliance on energy makes them vulnerable when energy prices skyrocket. So perhaps, with the high start up and energy costs, this type of farming is only viable for certain crops like salad leaves that have high profit margins.

There is also a problem with keeping the environment disease free, as the optimal growing conditions for these crops are also the optimal conditions for bacteria.  This is not a problem for items such as salad leaves and strawberries as the trays can be sterilised after harvesting, but when it comes to fruits for example that take years to matures, there is the risk of mould and bacteria growth.  

So perhaps the future yields the possibility of vertically farmed crops, but for now at least, we will have to content ourselves with the small fruits and vegetables that this type of farming produces until orchards can be grown in our cities.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Our YouTube Channel