The term “vertical farming” was first used by Gilbert Ellis Bailey in his book, Vertical Farming. For Gilbert, farming with special interest in soil origin, its nutrient content, the view of plant life as vertical life forms as it relates to underground root structures aptly captures vertical farming.
In modern parlance, however, vertical farming denotes growing plants in layers in a multistory skyscraper, warehouse or shipping container. Vertical farming is a natural extension of urban agriculture as the practice is expected to sustain cultivation of plant or animal life within dedicated or mixed-use skyscrapers in urban settings.
In spite of high costs of building skyscrapers for agricultural production, vertical farming is still encouraged in the urban centres for those who can afford it as it offers a lot of advantages including year-round crop production, protection from weather, support urban food autonomy, reduced transport costs, improved yield and eco-friendliness.
According to ecologist, Dickson Despommier, vertical farming is legitimate for environmental reasons. He claims that the cultivation of plant life within skyscrapers saves embodied energy and produce less pollution than some methods of producing plant life on natural landscapes, stressing that landscapes are too toxic for natural, agricultural production.
Archetect Ken Yean proposed and built mixed-use skyscrapers as ideal for vertical farming. The basic reason for his choice lies in his argument that plant life should be cultivated within open air for climate control and consumption. The main disadvantage of this practice, however, is in its inability to cater for the needed urban food autonomy since this version of vertical farming is for personal or community use rather than the “wholesale production and distribution plant life that aspires to feed an entire city.”
As an alternative, many companies have brought forth the concept of stacking recycled shipping containers in urban settings. Reports show that Brighterside consulting has created a complete off grid container system Freight Farms which produces a “leafy green machine” that is a complete farm-to-table system outfitted with vertical hydroponics, LED lighting and intuitive climate control, built within a 12 m × 2.4 m shipping container. Podponics has built a large scale vertical farm in Atlanta consisting of over 100 stacked “growpods.” A similar farm is currently under construction in Oma.
Minimal efforts at introducing vertical farming has been recorded on the African continent with a good example in Mashambas, East Africa, while much of the research on the concept is resident in the US. Although scientists have predicted that vertical farming will be scientifically viable in 2023, it remains to be seen if the method of farming would be widespread in the third world considering its high cost in spite of the relative advantages it offers.