Article by Josh Fabian
A lot of research has been done within the industry to improve overall vertical farming business models. In my mind, the most crucial research has been methods to bring about a circular economy (CE).
What Is A Circular Economy
Circular economies are defined as "a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible”. Further “the three principles required for the transformation to a circular economy are: eliminating waste and pollution, circulating products and materials, and the regeneration of nature. CE is defined in contradiction to the traditional linear economy”. Vertical and indoor farming and can play a major role in shifting people towards a more circular economy. Focusing on the inputs required can lead to significant reductions and repurposing of material and an overall greater outcome.
Circular Economy & A Tomato Greenhouse
Here’s an example I experienced - At a tomato greenhouse that I managed in Saratoga Springs, we had a large amount of tomato pruning that we did weekly. This biomass was being bagged and picked up by a waste management company. We were paying to get rid of it. To solve this, first, we began a composting program on-site to recover this biomass, instead of hauling it away by truckloads. Second, we connected with a local pig farmer who was interested in picking up this biomass for an input as pig feed. This transition not only saved money which improved our bottom line, but it also went further and helped a neighboring farmer improve their bottom line as well.
These types of transitions can take place across the various inputs/outputs of vertical and indoor farms. For example:
- Grow media can be reused and then composted
- Fertilizer/nutrients can be recirculated and then applied to landscaping instead of waste streams
- Seeds being planted in systems can be “cut and come again” instead of reseeding every crop turn
- Water that is taken out of the system via dehumidifiers, can be put back in as input water
- Waste, instead of being hauled away, can either be composted, or can be funneled towards an impactful final destination as in the tomato greenhouse example above
- Energy can be used efficiently with the use of smart thermostats, LED lighting, high seer heat pump systems, and other innovative conservation strategies
Filling the Circular Economy Research Gap for Vertical Farms
Research has shown that “[For vertical farms and controlled environment agriculture], host-building synergies and further synergies with businesses in proximity to the vertical farm can improve the material and energy efficiency of urban vertical farms. Furthermore, the results provide insights to residential building owners on the benefits of employing residual space for urban food provisioning and lowering energy demand.”. The correlation between vertical farming in urban environments and buildings to bridge disciplines such as architecture, urban design, horticulture, and industrial ecology, requires further research. In order to create this symbiotic relationship that is circular in nature, it can provide clear methods on how vertical and indoor farms can embrace more of these practices.
These vertical and indoor farming items, when viewed through the lens of a circular approach, can be reduced, recirculated, and eventually lead to regeneration. Great strides have been made in regards to each of them and vertical and indoor farming is a great example of an industry ripe with innovation. Often these strides improve financial viability, which can be a major motivating source for improvement. For example, we’re excited to showcase how Re-Nuble’s suite of technologies, made through the closed-loop agriculture method, will help indoor growers with their business viability. Furthering this, the “dirty work” may lie in improvements that take expense to research and implement but may lead to even more significant savings both financially and regeneratively.
You can follow more insights from our partnership with Glens Falls and others committed to the Glens Falls Vertical Farm Public Pilot here.