By Josh Fabian
Selecting a grow method and grow system were the first steps in getting the Glens Falls Urban Agriculture Project underway. We looked at other systems but ultimately, we chose a racking setup designed by Pipp Horticulture. Pipp was originally a mobile storage solutions company that designed shelving solutions. They currently set out to improve the racking systems provided to vertical farms.
Factors For Choosing Pipp’s Vertical Farming Racking System
A few things stood out about their system from the start, one being the robustness. The system is made out of steel and seems like it will hold up to the rigors of farming. Other systems we looked at had more plastic components, and we’ve come to realize that the lighter plastic components we considered were not suitable due it becoming unsightly or ineffective, depending on the significance of the component.
The second element that stood out is the ability to move the entire racking side to side. This allows for one aisle to serve multiple racks. Only having one aisle cuts down on wasted space inside the room, while not sacrificing the ability to access the crop from every angle.
"Other systems we looked at had more plastic components, and we’ve come to realize that the lighter plastic components tend to get brittle and break. When this occurs, it becomes unsightly and can become ineffective, depending on the significance of the component."
Selecting a Vertical Farm’s Growing Method
After determining the growing system, next was the growing method. The selection depends on cost, crops, energy, maintenance and impact on the environment. Originally, I had planned to utilize a NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) gutter type system integrated into the Pipp racking. We were planning to feed the water from the center and cascade down each drip pan in 8’ sections of NFT trough. While this would have worked, the added expense of NFT troughs negates a lot of the benefit. The NFT system considered is costly, high in energy usage, high maintenance, and contributes too much humidity to the environment. Typically, in NFT systems the water is flowing nonstop. With good aeration, this can grow very healthy crops. However, it also makes the pump work much harder, adding to additional energy requirements. Another disadvantage is if the power goes out, or the pump fails, the entire racking system will begin to drain out and you need to be able to store or dispose of a large volume of water before having a flood situation. Instead, we are now in favor of using the versatile Ebb-and-Flow trays as SAEF hydroponic systems
You can follow more insights from our partnership with Glens Falls and others committed to the Glens Falls Vertical Farm Public Pilot here.