The Next-Generation Greenhouse

The challenge of ensuring adequate, nutrient-rich food for an expanding global population is a daunting one, especially given tightening constraints on key resources like water and land. Could vertical farms – stacked greenhouses that use artificial light to grow crops – be the solution the world has been awaiting?

ISTANBUL – The challenge of ensuring adequate, nutrient-rich food for an expanding global population is a daunting one, especially given constraints on key resources like water and agricultural land. As it stands, the two leading approaches to enriching and enlarging the world’s food supply are genetic engineering and industrial processing with additives and chemicals. Now, a third solution is emerging: vertical farming.

Academic studies have found that locally cultivated vertical farms – stacked greenhouses that use artificial light to grow crops – can provide considerable savings, which could then be passed along to consumers. But questions about such farms’ fundamental economics, especially for commodity crops, have persisted.

That may be about to change. About a decade ago, four Dutch engineers – three of whom were also horticultural experts – initiated the “plant paradise” project to learn how high-value herbs, vegetables, and berries (not grains or tree fruits) grow best. They studied how much light green beans need to thrive; which wavelengths produce the most delicious tomatoes; what temperatures cause basil to flourish; and which combination of nutrients creates the healthiest cauliflower. Through persistent experimentation, they began developing recipes for each kind of plant, along with a blueprint for “plant production units” (PPUs) that can provide these ideal growing conditions wherever they are installed.

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