The Path to Growing Food Indoors
Prehistorically, food grew seasonally. Fruits and nuts in the fall and leafy greens in the spring. It wasn’t until the invention of agriculture 12,000 years ago that humans were able to expand their selection of food. Still, much of agriculture was dependent on region and climate. Root vegetables thrived in the Mediterranean region, while cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and bok choy were introduced when trade routes expanded to the Middle East and Asia. The expansion of modern farming techniques ultimately allowed crops to grow in different climates and geographical locations.
The modern farming techniques we see today grew from the seeds of farmers doing things like sheltering crops from the cold with glass boxes in the field. This led to the introduction of indoor farming in the form of greenhouses where crops that flourished in warmer temperatures could be brought inside during harsh winters. In the Netherlands, greenhouses eventually led to development of technology to increase yield and manipulate environmental factors. In fact, the Netherlands was the first place to use “computer-assisted environmental control systems.” The advancement of this technology has resulted in modern farming techniques such as vertical farming, hydroponics, aeroponics, and aquaponics. However, these modern techniques have deep roots. Vertical farming is exemplified in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, built over 2,500 years ago. Aztec people explored an early version of hydroponics by constructing rafts to grow crops on lakes near marshy areas since the swampy soil is inadequate for farming.
The Present: Modern Farming Indoors
Today, technology has transformed these indoor methods into modern farming techniques that you might be more familiar with such as hydroponics, aeroponics, and aquaponics. Many of these growing practices utilize the vertical farming method, which enables farmers and companies to be more productive on the same plot of land as traditional agriculture by way of growing up. Bowery employs the vertical farming method, and as a result we are over 100x+ more productive per square foot of land than that of traditional agriculture.
Now let’s talk about some of the different methods employed with modern indoor farming. These techniques differ in how they deliver a plant’s three primary needs: water, nutrients, and light.
Hydroponics, what we use here at Bowery, is defined as the science of growing plants without soil in a nutrient-rich solution. The nutrient-rich solution plants are grown in is water-based, but the water is recycled continuously, which reduces environmental impact.
Aeroponics, technically a subset of hydroponics, works by suspending plant roots in air and misting them with nutrient water. This method also uses less water than traditional agriculture, but may leave plant roots vulnerable to pathogens, if not carefully controlled.
Aquaponics is a closed-loop system that relies on the symbiotic relationship between aquaculture (fish) and agriculture (plants) for fertilization. While fish waste accumulates in the water and provides the nutrients necessary for plant growth, the plants naturally clean the water. It provides a balanced, yet less regimented environment.
The Future Looks Ripe
While urban farming is on the rise, it still comprises less than 20 percent of agricultural production worldwide today according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Yet, this next frontier of farming boasts some important advantages: it allows farmers to produce more output, use fewer resources, and reduce transportation by locating operations closer to the point of consumption.
At Bowery, we’re developing and implementing technological solutions into our indoor modern farms to address major global issues, including:
- FOOD SUPPLY FOR A GROWING POPULATION: With a global population growing to 9-10 billion people by 2050, we’ll need 50%-70% more food to feed that population, 70%-80% of which will be in and around cities. We grow 365 days a year and aren’t affected by seasonality and varying weather patterns, leaving us with a consistent, high-quality supply of food that’s only delivered locally.
- WATER SCARCITY: The agriculture industry uses 70% of the world’s freshwater resources. We give our crops exactly what they need and nothing more, enabling us to use 95% less water than traditional farming methods. Our team is also continuously researching ways to further decrease water usage as we grow Bowery Farming in new markets.
- BIODIVERSITY: In the last 100 years, more than 90 percent of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers’ fields. With this stark decline, many species are under threat, as is human knowledge of local foods, not to mention possible health implications with the decline of diverse diets. At Bowery, our indoor farms enable us to cultivate over 100 types of crops, which are typically difficult to germinate and grow in this region.
Yes, these challenges are daunting. But at Bowery, we’re passionate about realizing the potential of indoor farming and revolutionizing its next chapter.