By Edyth Parker
By 2050, Earth’s population will grow to 9 billion, according to the United Nations. This population growth, coupled with a rabid global urbanization rate, is increasing the pressure on urban areas’ infrastructure and services. Cities will need to find ways to adapt to absorb their new populations, who may become vulnerable to poverty and food and water shortages. One movement that looks to address urban poverty and food insecurity is vertical urban farming, and the Plantagon greenhouse in Sweden is one of the latest examples of this innovation.
Plantagon officially broke ground on their vertical greenhouse in Linköping in 2012. The Plantagon Greenhouse Project aims to develop a sustainable vertical farm that can function by using excess heat and waste from the nearby industries for energy and fertilizer. For this, Plantagon has three different vertical farm models: the integrated greenhouse, the parasite, and the stand-alone greenhouse.
The integrated greenhouse is not just a greenhouse. In this model, there will be a façade system of panels on the exterior of the building that will host the cultivation boxes for the crops. The building itself will be used for other industrial purposes as well as urban farming, maximizing land productivity. The façade system will have a conveyor belt that moves each plant in and out of sunlight as the cultivation boxes are carried downward floor by floor.
These boxes or pots will be fitted with an ebb-and-flow irrigation mechanism as well as nutrient reservoirs. The crops will grow as they slowly move down the conveyor belt, arriving mature and ready for harvesting in the basement levels. Harvesting will be done using an automatic harvesting machine, after which the pots will be reused for a new generation of crops. The parasite model was created as a façade or exterior system that could be attached to existing buildings.
The stand-alone greenhouse model will be constructed purely for the purpose of urban agriculture. One design for this model consists of a glass sphere with a helix-shaped transport ramp at its core. As with the integrated system, thousands of planting boxes will be slowly rotating downward toward a harvesting machine. The spherical nature of the greenhouse was designed to maximize the access to light for optimal crop growth, even in winter seasons.
Critics of the design say the unusual shape will increase construction cost, but Plantagon has justified the design by estimating that the Plantagon stand-alone greenhouse will yield three times the amount of crops a traditional vertical urban farm of the same size could.
Smaller versions of the greenhouse will commit to over-the-counter sales, while the larger greenhouses will have lower per-product costs and will most likely trade with grocery stores and restaurants. Plantagon believes these farms will be sustainable on their profit alone. In a growing world with limited space, efficient, easy-to-use and inexpensive innovations in urban agriculture—like the greenhouses designed by Plantagon—can be an important way to address food security and poverty in urban settings.
Do you think Plantagon’s farms are the solution to urban food insecurity? Tell us in the comments.
Edyth Parker is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.
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