Mercury Rising 鳯女

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Vertical Farming

Posted by Phoenix Woman on May 21, 2009

Terrapass’ Adam Stein, who is normally skeptical of vertical farming, links approvingly to this LA Times piece on two high-tech greenhouses that grow large amounts of high-value crops like tomatoes with far less of a water input than needed in conventional farming — a big deal in desert places like Southern California:

Rising out of verdant acres of strawberries and artichokes between Highway 101 and the Pacific Ocean in Ventura County are two mammoth, high-tech greenhouses.


The facility generates its own renewable power. It hoards rainwater. It hosts its own bumblebees for pollination. And it requires a fraction of the chemicals used in neighboring fields to coax plants to produce like champions.


The son of a Dutch immigrant farmer, the 51-year-old Houweling has helped build his family’s agricultural business into one of the largest greenhouse-based growers in North America. But the California facility is no ordinary hothouse.

On a recent afternoon, he was eager to show visitors clusters of plump, sweet tomatoes hanging overhead from vines that reach high into the rafters. This arrangement allows the farm’s 450 permanent employees to climb ladders to pick the fruit instead of stooping. The plants, which are fed individually through tubing that looks like intravenous hospital equipment, produce 20 times more fruit per acre than in conventional field production.

Virtually nothing is wasted in this ecosystem. Workers have dug a four-acre pond to store rainwater and runoff. This water, along with condensation, is collected, filtered and recirculated back to each of the 20-acre greenhouses. That has cut water use to less than one-fifth of that required in conventional field cultivation. Fertilizer use has been reduced by half. There are no herbicides and almost no pesticides, and there is no dust.

Five-acres of photovoltaic solar cells supply much of the electricity to run pumps and climate controls. Thermal systems collect solar heat and warehouse refrigeration exhaust to warm the greenhouses on cool evenings. Together, the two systems generate 2.1 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 1,500 homes.

“We believe this is the first greenhouse in the world that is energy neutral,” Houweling said.

Until recently, it wouldn’t have been possible to do this and make any money at it — and it certainly won’t work everywhere, or for every crop. But in places like California, where the prices for land are high and access to water is by no means guaranteed, this is likely going to be the wave of the future for various types of produce.

2 Responses to “Vertical Farming”

  1. Charles II said

    Five acres of PV cells?

    • That’s what you need to generate 2.1 megawatts with solar panels, apparently. Two medium-to-small-sized wind turbines — or one medium-sized one — would have handled this on less than half the land. And the land could still be used for grazing, farming and other purposes.

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