Vertical Farming: An Ancient Industry is Growing Up

Michelle Heath

Food Series:

The Basics: What is Vertical Farming? | Markets and Economics | Food Waste

Vertical Farming: An Ancient Industry is Growing Up

Vertical farming, or growing crops indoors under tightly-controlled conditions, in stacked production shelves, using artificial lighting and advanced hydroponic, aeroponic, aquaponic or dryponic feeding systems ,may revolutionize the global food system and aid in resolving global food security and nutrition concerns.

The hard facts:

50% of all habitable land is used for agriculture

70% of all freshwater is used for agriculture

Graphic of the Essential Components of a Vertical Farm:

  • Multi-layer production shelves
  • Sole-source lighting, primarily LEDs, high-intensity, light-emitting diodes, or fluorescent lamps
  • Hydroponic, aeroponic or aquaponic growing systems
  • Perception technologies: cameras and sensors to monitor the plant growth process
  • Artificial intelligence (machine learning) to process the data from the sensors to formulate improvements in growth patterns
  • Autonomous mechatronics like robots to harvest the produce

Did you know: The average distance traveled by leafy greens to Canadian grocery stores is 3,000 kilometers with the journey being up to two weeks long during which time produce can lose up to 70% of its nutritional value.


Hydroponic – Use of mineral nutrients in a water solvent to grow plants without soil

Aquaponic – A subset of hydroponics, uses aquatic creatures (fish, snails) to cultivate plants in water, without soil

Aeroponic – A plant-cultivation technique in which roots hang suspended in the air and nutrient solution is delivered in a fine mist

In 2015, it was estimated that the total floor space devoted to commercial vertical farming in North America was approximately 900,000 square feet or roughly 20.7 acres.



CAGR – compound annual growth rate

kJ – kilojoule, equal to one thousand (103) joules

kWh – kilowatt hour, one hour of electricity usage at a rate of 1 kilowatt

CEA – controlled environment agriculture