Adventures in Indoor Farming

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Urbanization is an overwhelming trend. The world population is growing, cities are exploding. The growth of megacities is relentless. By 2050 the world population will increase from 7 to 9 billion; almost 80% of humans will live in cities. How are all of these people to be fed? Where will the space come from for traditional agriculture to satisfy the need for fresh produce?

In the future fresh foodstuffs could come from somewhere entirely different – not from the land, but from your living room straight to your plate. There’s no shorter transportation route than that! The answer is indoor farming, a method of growing food. Inside. That is, your food is cultivated where right where you eat it: at home. A new trend is born: urban agriculture.

As John Floros, Professor at Kansas State University explains, “All over the world the middle class is growing… and it’s demanding better quality food, better in many ways, especially with regards to safety and taste. (More on the subject here: The Future of Food Waste). As a concept, indoor farming can meet these needs.

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Basically every plant can grown inside. It’s just a matter of the right conditions and exposure to light. Even for countries where the sun doesn’t shine all year round and fruit and vegetables must be procured over long distances from various regions of the world, the idea of indoor farming is a promising one. Fresh produce is thus available immediately all year long. Long-distance transportation and the cooling it requires disappear. Transportation costs are minimized. Growing becomes tremendously water- and energy-efficient and is completely freed of seasonal and weather conditions, so there are no losses due to crop failure. A revolution in urban food supply.

This kind of cultivation opens up entirely new possibilities. It’s not only in the city where you can plant and harvest, but also in the desert, in the basement, and on Mars, as Guy Galonska explains, one of the founders of the Infarm Cafe in Berlin, hidden in a backyard in Kreuzberg. The idea behind Infarm was to find a way to cultivate one’s own food, live healthier and take back control over one’s dietary intake. All that, of course, combined with the desire to live in the city. Indoor Farming combines all of these desires, Galonska said. And that’s how Infarm Cafe came to be, where the founders now offer fresh, self-grown herbs to their Berlin clientele.

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With indoor farming it’s even possible to grow without soil. In tandem with special LED lights that replace sunlight, hydroponics replace soil. This way of growing allows you to maintain total control of the environment in which the fruit and vegetables grow. To this effect, your self-grown produce tastes very intense, while remaining uncompromised by weather and seasonal fluctuations. The urbanite has the opportunity to become a vegetable farmer by easy means and thus a self-supporter.

No longer condemned to lead a passive existence as a consumer, urbanites become active, self-determined producers. That is the actual revolution.

The Italian start-up, Bulbo, is also working on creative solutions for indoor farming in urban spaces. Bulbo designs and sells the required LED lights. Their products give urbanites a way to experience urban agriculture at home on a daily basis, and in this vein they seek to further their relationship to nature.

The upgrade of indoor farming is vertical farming: indoor farming on more than one floor. Growing vertically allows even the smallest of spaces to be used efficiently for food cultivation. In farmscrapers, as the multi-storied buildings are affectionately called, fruit and vegetables can be grown and harvested all year long regardless of the season.

This vertical urban agriculture could help to remedy the problem of providing an ever-growing world population concentrated in mega-cities with fresh produce.

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Indoor farming is a compromise that accounts for an ever-changing world. People must face up to the challenges of these future scenarios, and indoor farming offers an approach that transcends conventional agriculture. Only in this way is it possible to cultivate produce where people live.

And yet what does it mean for our agricultural tradition when we part with the natural law of the seasons? In cities it is already such that people and their menus no longer follow the natural seasons, Guy Galonska from Infarm explains. “Using tools and technologies is something completely human, as these give us a way to exercise control over our lives and go after things that benefit us. This gives us a way to co-determine the future. The city is a natural development of the human species, and the same goes for indoor farming.”

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[1] UN-Report 2013

[2] http://www.bpb.de/nachschlagen/zahlen-und-fakten/globalisierung/52705/verstaedterung

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