Sky farm: maximizing space and food

By: Will Crothers

sky farm

The world’s rapidly increasing population boom over the next 40 years or so is going to present some significant challenges for human efficiency. One of the chief challenges, aside from combatting carbon release, will be increasing global food supply in a sustainable way.

Sky Farm, amongst other similarly named projects, is the idea of growing food in an urban high rise setting (or at least multi-story building). It’s designed to maximize sunlight exposure and uses hydroponic artificial lighting to grow root, plant and even tree based fruits and vegetables. Some designs also include chicken hatcheries for egg and meat production.

To be cost efficient, these projects have to be energy efficient. Collecting rainwater and recycling waste water, maximizing solar produced energy and even the use of bio-waste digesters helps power these aerial acres. Some of the advantages are undeniable: it uses previously un-farmable land and multiplies an acreage’s value because of the stacked floors and ability to grow year-round. It lowers the distance (and thereby transportation costs) to get produce to a local grocery store or restaurant. With farm land being pushed away from city cores and with the expected increase of population within big cities, the burden of the additional distance from food producers to food consumers, is borne by a majority of the population.

Since there is a need for energy production and composting for an urban farm’s operations, it also provides a depot for some forms of recycling from the local neighbourhood (and perhaps a cheaper option for city waste management than hauling it out to a dump or recycling facility further away).

Wastewater filtration and recycling can also ease the demands placed on the existing city water treatment functions.

There are multiple designs out there that address a truth that at some point we can’t keep clearing forests for farmable lands, and that unless properly maintained, arable land degrades with time.

We have seen farms sold off to either mega-farms or to develop real estate, the latter of which decreases our available arable land. Fighting the economic advantage of selling off agricultural land for the building of real estate is important in the long run. The premium placed on prime real estate in the core of a big city may represent the biggest barrier to cost efficiency of contemporary farms. However, many cities have real estate opportunities from withered manufacturing booms.

Another point to ponder is the conditions under which many of these crops can grow in lab-like (or at least more environmentally guarded growing conditions), keeping contamination down, yield up, and hopefully stem the need for chemical treatment.

Food supply can also be expressed in terms of food security. Significant civil and humanitarian problems correlate with times of food insecurity, either through natural forces like drought, or by human or state imposed restrictions such as trade embargos.

Canada’s not exactly going to be short on the ability to produce most dietary staples if push comes to shove. However, being on the cutting edge of this type of food production technology helps keep domestic inflation on food costs down, increases total production and yield available to export (or donate in humanitarian aid).

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