Vertical Farming Can Bring Sustainability and Steadiness to the Supply Chain

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Vertical Farming Can Bring Sustainability and Steadiness to the Supply Chain_v2

As we explained in this previous post, vertical farming is a farming technique where crops are grown indoors in a laboratory-like, climate-controlled space. Instead of a crop being limited to geographical regions that provide the ideal growing conditions, vertical farmers can fine-tune the level of water, nutrients, humidity and temperature, as well as light frequency, duration and intensity to create the most ideal environment possible for the crop to grow.

A handful of rural conventional farms are the mega-producers that supply vast swathes of the country with fruits and vegetables, generally located far away from the urban and suburban areas where their crops are shipped to be made available to consumers. The shipping journey — often spanning thousands of miles of highway or open ocean — leads to large amounts of waste and product loss, in addition to creating a large carbon footprint. 

The lack of flexibility in conventional farming practices was made evident when the COVID-19 pandemic caused panic buying, restaurant order cancellations en masse and labor shortages. 

But vertical farming could shake up the status quo by allowing producers to grow crops in the same neighborhoods they serve.

Reduce spoilage by growing exotic crops locally

Research shows that light, heat, storage time and handling can reduce the amount of nutrients in vegetables. Conventional farms pick crops well before they’re ripe so they can survive the long journey to the supermarket, but a large portion of those crops are damaged in the shipping process, creating huge amounts of food waste.

Vertically farmed crops last longer than conventional crops because:

  • Crops have a longer shelf life due to perfect growing conditions (no excess sun or heat damage).
  • Drastically reduced shipment duration means ripe crops can be picked and shipped to market the same day or transferred to on-site cold storage.
  • Shorter shipping time and distance reduces handling and storage time.

Sustenir, a vertical farming company based in Singapore (which imports 92% of its vegetables) has started producing cold-weather produce like kale and strawberries for consumers on the humid, tropical island city-state. The company even guarantees its produce for up to two weeks in their refrigerators, because there is so little time between being harvested and stocked in local markets. 



Vertical farms provide flexibility in a rigid supply chain

Conventional mega-producers simply don’t have the ability to quickly pivot in response to supply chain interruptions. When COVID-19 lockdowns were announced last March, panic-buying cleaned out grocery store shelves and restaurants forced to close canceled orders from suppliers, all at once. This led to a shortage of products available for the consumers that needed them, while crops originally bound for restaurants sat in boxes and rotted.

The nature of vertical farms sets them up to be locally connected producers, so it’s much easier for vertical farmers to communicate with vendors and respond in real-time to demand changes in the markets they serve. Outside of pandemic times, vertical farms can grow popular crops as they go out of season, while having the ability to quickly produce much-needed produce if there is an unexpected shortage from mass producers, like we saw in the spring of 2020.

Improving food security with vertical farms

Vertical farming technology also has the potential to greatly increase food security, especially in countries like Singapore, who import most of their produce, as well as in urban food deserts, where residents don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

An ideal scenario for food security would be a network of vertical farms that serve individual, hyper-local markets, mostly replacing the mega-producers that ship nationwide

Droughts, torrential rains and other weather events don’t pose a threat to vertical farms, unlike conventional farms, which can have an entire year’s worth of crops destroyed in an adverse weather event.

Conventional farms usually grow a single crop, often non-native and sometimes outside the ideal growing area. These farms use massive amounts of water, fertilizers and pesticides in order to create better conditions for their crops. Vertical farms could step in to grow these non-native crops, freeing up conventional farms to grow the produce that’s most suitable for each particular location while massively reducing water usage and runoff.

Downsides to vertical farming

I’ll admit, this blog post makes vertical farming sound like the miracle food production breakthrough of the 21st century, but there are still hurdles to overcome for vertical farms to become major players in the agricultural market:

  • Energy intensive — The LED lighting and HVAC systems used to create the perfect conditions in vertical farming use a lot of electricity and will run up a significant power bill.
  • Not quite carbon neutral — The carbon footprint associated with shipping and packaging foods across the globe is reduced by vertical farming methods, but the power required to operate the indoor facilities is still significant.
  • High cost of entry — It’s not as cheap as planting seeds in the ground. Considering the cost of vertical farming equipment and warehouse space, the initial investment required could be in the millions, depending on a facility’s size.
  • Backup power is mandatory — Vertical farms rely on the power grid to keep their plants fed, watered and lit. If a facility doesn’t have backup generators to fall back on during a power outage, it will be impossible to maintain ideal growing conditions and could lead to large amounts of crop loss.

These are important considerations that may slow widespread adoption of the practice, but it’s benefits can’t be ignored. While cost is still a considerable factor in vertical farming, there’s no denying that it’s a growing technology with a promising future.

If you would like to learn more about starting a vertical farm, email me at kwarzynski@stellar.net.

 

Vertical Farming Could Bring the Farm to Your Block

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Vertical farming is a soilless method of farming that takes place inside a climate-controlled, laboratory-like environment. Farmers are able to fine-tune indoor spaces to the crops they want to grow, instead of being limited to growing crops that a particular outdoor area can support. 

The ability to grow in-demand produce without the massive footprint of an outdoor farm, regardless of climate, has led to more vertical farming facilities in urban areas, where produce is grown, harvested and quickly shipped to retailers in the same city. This cuts down on product loss and shipping damage while increasing the shelf life and quality of produce once it hits the shelves.

 

The Benefits and Basics of Building Management Systems for Food Plants

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The Benefits and Basics of Building Management Systems for Food Plants

We live in a world where we have unprecedented access to a wide variety of data — and food and beverage plants are no exception. Owners increasingly want to know what’s going on in their facilities from water and electricity consumption to other processing and mechanical data.

Building management systems can monitor and control various elements throughout a building, such as:

  • HVAC systems
  • Lighting
  • Plumbing
  • Processing equipment
  • Security systems

While these systems are utilized in various commercial buildings, they’re especially important in food manufacturing facilities, which use a significant amount of energy and water in their processing.

 

6 Points, One Stone: How Low-Impact Development (LID) Can Help Achieve LEED Certification

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6 Points, One Stone: How Low-Impact Development (LID) Can Help Achieve LEED Certification

If you’re not familiar with low-impact development (LID), you may want to keep reading before building your next facility or warehouse. Thanks to recent changes in LEED requirements, we’re going to see an increase in projects utilizing LID in the near future.

What exactly is low-impact development? How can you make the most of LID and maximize it when applying for LEED certification? Let’s unpack what it means for your next project.

 

Understanding LEED v4’s Energy and Water Use Prerequisites and Credits

What you need to know about v4’s focus on energy efficiency, as well as new credits to consider pursuing for your project

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Understanding LEED v4’s Energy and Water Use Prerequisites and Credits

When it comes to green building, LEED v4 is the new standard. As of October 31, 2016, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) will only accept new LEED registrations under LEED v4. Although the registration date was extended, the last day projects can submit for v3 certification — the sunset date — is still June 30, 2021.

The latest version of the LEED rating system features more rigorous standards, and while some of the credits and prerequisites are essentially the same as the 2009 version, there are some significant changes.

I outlined those changes in a previous post, but now let’s take a closer look at some of the new prerequisites and credits ushered in by LEED v4, specifically those involving energy use and environmental impact.

 

How to Achieve LEED Certification Without Sacrificing Process Performance

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How to Achieve LEED Certification Without Sacrificing Process Performance

So you want your building to be LEED certified, but what level should you pursue? Does a more energy-efficient facility mean completely revamping your processing? What about food safety?

LEED certification is a good thing, but it should not dictate every decision in a new-build or plant renovation. Checking credits off your LEED checklist shouldn’t come at the expense of performance and food safety.

Let’s look at some factors to designing a sustainable facility that go beyond the traditional aspects like electricity and water use. But first things first: where to begin?

 

6 Ways to Optimize Your Facility’s Energy Consumption

How to achieve water, electric and refrigeration efficiency that translates to long-term ROI

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6 Ways to Optimize Your Facility’s Energy Consumption

Energy costs typically account for 30 percent of a facility’s operating budget. That means nearly a third of all the money you funnel into your plant goes straight to the utility bill.

We already know about the popularity of green building and sustainable practices, but is it possible to go too green? In short, yes. You don’t want to go so overboard with efficiencies that you’re overspending on unnecessary improvements.

 

Is LEED Certification More Achievable for Refrigerated Facilities in LEED v4?

What two credit interpretation rules mean for temperature-controlled plants

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Food processing and cold storage facilities have historically faced challenges when pursuing LEED certification. Refrigeration and process systems require a lot of energy, and there has never been a specific path or program for these types of facilities under the LEED umbrella. However, LEED v4 and its two specific credit interpretation rules are now making the path to certification more achievable.

 

What’s New in LEED v4: Big Picture Changes, Updates for Building Design and Construction

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What’s new in LEED v4: Big picture changes, updates for Building Design and Construction

LEED v4 is here. This latest version of the LEED rating system is “bolder and more specialized for building projects worldwide,” and it features more rigorous standards. While some of the credits and prerequisites are essentially the same as the 2009 version, there are some significant changes you should know about if a new build or renovation is in your future.