When you picture a farm, you probably think of a quaint little family run operation with a house, a picturesque yard, and mountains of leafy greens. Or you may imagine a huge industrial operation with millions of dollars in heavy farm equipment working in fields as far as the eye can see.
But, there is an alternative to both: an indoor farm.
What is Indoor Farming?
The simplest possible explanation is that indoor farming is farming done inside of a building.
It does not require large equipment like tractors or combines, and often uses less water than growing outdoors. Instead, it relies on other types of technology – like cameras and software – to grow food inside.
While it’s not uncommon to grow plants inside of a building like a greenhouse, growing leafy greens on a small scale is more akin to gardening. What makes it indoor farming is when it’s done on a much larger scale.
Types of Indoor Farming
The biggest advantage of indoor farming is that it allows growers to optimize the growing process for higher yields. Droughts, storms, insect infestations and all the other hazards of growing outdoors are eradicated. Instead, farmers can control everything, right down to the amount of light plants receive on a minute-to-minute basis.
As the name implies, vertical farming is when food is grown on levels that are stacked on top of each other going upward. This type of indoor farming requires a fairly large and tall building, a lighting system, a way to make sure all the plants get the water and nutrients they need, and some type of system for monitoring the plants, like sensors or some kind of software.
Vertical farms usually have several levels of plants growing at any given time. The advantage of growing plants this way is that you can grow a lot more food on a given square foot of land than if you were only growing a single layer outdoors. If you had a 25,000 square foot building, for example, vertical farming allows you to grow a lot more crops on multiple layers than if you were to only use the land to grow a single layer.
While indoor agriculture allows for better use of space when it’s done vertically, it is also quite energy intensive. In addition to the necessary infrastructure, a lot of electricity is required to run the various lights, pumps, sensors, cameras and other equipment needed to make a vertical farm run.
Many vertical farms opt to offset this high energy consumption by using as much renewable energy as possible.
One common way of growing food in vertical farms is hydroponic farming, which is when you grow plants without the use of soil. Instead, plants are grown in a nutrient solution mixed with water.
In hydroponic farming, plants don’t have to “seek out” nutrients in soil. Rather, the nutrients completely surround the roots, making it much easier for them to absorb what they need. This causes the plants to grow quicker and more abundantly than if they grew in dirt. This process often leads to higher yields of fresh produce.
While it is much cleaner than soil growing because of the lack of dirt, it is also quite energy intensive. The various pumps and other equipment needed for hydroponic systems tend to use a lot of electricity.
Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA)
CEA is an all-encompassing term that includes any type of indoor agriculture, like greenhouses, hydroponic systems, and vertical farms. It also includes: aeroponics, the growing of plants using mist; aquaculture, the growing of aquatic organisms like fish; and aquaponics, which combines aquaculture and hydroponics.
The key to CEA is that farmers can control every aspect of the environment that the plants are grown in, eliminating the need to rely on the weather or potentially harmful chemicals like pesticides and herbicides. Controlling every aspect of the growing process often leads to greater instances of food safety.
CEA also gives growers the ability to produce crops year-round instead of only when the weather is ideal for growing, and the ability to grow crops virtually anywhere, even in regions they wouldn’t normally grow.
Between hydroponics, vertical farming, and CEA, more and more of the world’s food supply is being generated by indoor farming. It is projected to be a $25 billion industry by 2027.
Types of Food That Can Be Grown Indoors
While grains like barley and wheat are still grown outdoors in massive fields, many vegetables and fruits have proven to be exceptionally easy to farm indoors.
According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, which is part of the United States Department of Agriculture, the following list of fresh produce is regularly grown “under protection,” which includes farming indoors:
A study of the vertical farming industry in North America commissioned by Monark Group in September 2016 found that (in addition to the previously mentioned foods) indoor farming also often includes:
- summer squash,
- microgreens & sprouts,
- spinach, and
That study further states that there is potential to grow many pharmaceutical crops indoors, as well.
The Advantages of Indoor Farming
Indoor farming has many advantages over traditional farming practices.
Less land usage
As mentioned previously, a vertical farm can grow a lot more plants on a given area of land than a single outdoor field. In densely populated regions where there may not be much arid land for agriculture, this can be extremely helpful.
Indoor farms do not require a lot of open space to operate, especially vertical farms. Old, unused industrial buildings in urban areas can easily be repurposed for indoor farming.
Growing in urban areas can potentially stymie the progression of climate change by allowing cultivated land to rewild.
Year round yields
Unhampered by weather, indoor farms can grow food 365 days per year. It’s never too cold, too snowy or too windy for plants. Growing indoors means operating within a food system that’s not at the mercy of climate change.
In addition to allowing for year-round growing, indoor agriculture also makes it possible to grow food in regions where that food doesn’t normally grow, thus helping to cut down on transportation of foods.
Instead of hauling food into a city, crops can grow right in the middle of the city. Instead of having to ship vegetables into dry, inhospitable regions or excessively cold regions, it is now possible to grow the food right there.
By cutting down on the amount of time in transit, food stays fresher for longer periods of time and cuts down on food waste.
Healthier and more abundant crops
Being able to optimize everything about a plant’s growing cycle, from the amount of nutrients they get to the amount of light they receive, means farmers can grow healthier and more abundant crops.
More environmentally friendly
Crops grown indoors do not require pesticides or herbicides, traditionally are grown with less water, and they don’t cause fertilizer runoff, which can be detrimental to the local environment. It is true that indoor farming is energy intensive, but many indoor farming operations offset this high use of energy by taking steps to use as much renewable energy as possible.
What Does Indoor Farming Mean for the Future of Agriculture?
Because of its ability to grow healthy, bountiful food virtually anywhere year-round, indoor agriculture has the power to reshape the entire agricultural industry.
Looking into the future, it is conceivable that every urban center will have at least one indoor farming operation in its midst. We may see, at some point, new commercial or residential buildings erected with a portion of their floors dedicated to indoor farming to help feed the people in that building.
There will be less need to transport food long distances if it can be grown on-the-spot and shipped just a short distance from one building to another or even just one floor to another.
With indoor farming, agriculture may go back to its roots of being small, highly localized operations instead of sprawling, industrial mega-farms that generate mountains of waste. And, such operations will have the additional benefit of being able to supply locals with freshly grown produce in all seasons.
Agriculture is bound to look very different in the future thanks to indoor farming operations.
Indoor Farming Technology at Bowery
At Bowery, we believe that anything from an abandoned warehouse to a storage facility or shipping container right in the heart of the city can be turned into a vertical farm. Because the crops are stacked, Bowery’s vertical farms are 100 times more productive on the same footprint of land than a traditional farm.
Where others see an empty industrial building that may need to be torn down, we see the potential for another farming operation that does not require clearing a forest to make room.
Our approach to vertical farming respects the environment and uses sustainable practices. By growing food where people live, Bowery helps to cut down on food transportation and food waste that is common to hauling food long distances. You won’t see any of our crops rotting in the back of a truck as they travel hundreds of miles.
Vertical farming allows for enhanced resource management. Water, the most precious resource on earth, is recaptured and recycled at our farms. We use less water than a traditional farm and save 15-20 million gallons of water per year compared to traditional agricultural practices.
Bowery runs smart farms. We use the exclusive Bowery Operating System (BoweryOS) to control the growing conditions for each specific type of plant we have. This strategy lets us provide each type of crop we produce with an ideal growing environment. It’s also easily scalable.
The BoweryOS monitors every single plant and regulates the lighting, temperature, humidity, and nutrients provided to each section of our indoor vertical farms to produce the most nutritious and delicious food possible. From the time a seed is planted until it is harvested, the BoweryOS tracks it and tells our modern farmers how many days it takes for the seed to germinate, when the plant should be moved to the grow room, and when it’s ready for harvest.
We employ agricultural scientists to continually research the best way to vertically grow plants so we can diversify our crop output.
We collect and analyze historical data to constantly improve growing conditions. The BoweryOS has accumulated metrics from thousands of growing cycles, including humidity, airflow, CO2 emissions, and light intensity. This will help us to maximize food production while conserving resources and reducing energy consumption even further in the future.
Indoor vertical farming provides unique solutions for feeding a growing world population with fewer resources. By developing and implementing these strategies now, Bowery is helping humanity get ahead of many of these issues and contribute to a more sustainable food system for everyone.
With its ability to grow food where people live all year round, indoor agriculture will play a key role in helping people live healthier, more sustainable lives. The future of farming is not clearing more forests to grow food on single layer plots of land. It’s repurposing the old, abandoned buildings in cities to feed populations where they live, using less water, and reducing transportation and chemical usage. Bowery is extremely proud to be leading the way into the future.