Is he or she recognisable as a farmer? Checked shirt, muddy boots, body warmer, lots of talk about the weather and how to get in hold of a good agronomist – metaphorically speaking. Or is the new generation of Vertical Farmer recognisable at all? Does he or she install the same trust of tradition dictated by years of photos ‘in the field’ flasks of tea and sheaves of wheat?
Are they optimists? Realists? Or misguided?
Well, from my short experience of this alternative additional way of farming, these new researchers, growers and scientists are a very diverse bunch – bringing with them some pretty novel ideas and clever science. Some may have been advocates for alternative farming for donkeys’ years and seen as hippie kibbutz types living in a tye dye world.
There are the technology buffs, who are excited by light spectrums and purple basil, those affiliated to a University or Research Institute investigating new viable plant species. That leaves the investors – suited and booted looking to support and shore up sustainable food supply for the future by presenting, supporting and chasing funding grants, and bursaries.
Who does that leave? Well, people like me who are fascinated and compelled to work through it, in it and with it – keen to get the crops growing, find new markets and influence consumer perception where possible, capitalise on the year round nature of these environments to grow funky stuff, no need to talk about the weather (which is a shame as it is a passion of mine). Innovation Agri Tech host tours, accessible for all, we will talk to anyone who will listen about the fact that there is some really refreshing stuff happening with controlled environment farming at the moment from our technology to the crops we have grown and supplied.
All the knowledge in focus for vertical farmers, whether it be hydroponics, aeroponics, aquaponics and anything in between has been borne from the knowledge gained from traditional farming, ecology and sustainability, these, I think are the drivers from the beginning of time – from when the first crops were grown. It’s just that these brave entrepreneurs are talking nutrient mist rather than mud.
Urban Farming has the ability to support and shore up elements of the current sustainable farming debate, lots written about ‘new world’ farming is anecdotal – traditional farmers who may feel these technological advancements threaten their livelihood and ancestral home. With technology comes data, there is harmony in practice if we join forces. Vertical farming has sustainability at its core, soil and tillage, (we are soil less) , water usage (ours is cleaned and recycled) pesticides, (none required) re wilding (hybrid farms) and entomology (bees can be pivotal to pollination indoors or out). The ingredients are there.
Farm diversification, education and succession, all have a place with the new look vertical farmer – boxes ticked, companies like IAG do not take away, we add to the ecology and sustainability debate with our heads held high.
Hybrid farms is another aspect of my new world and knowledge, wouldn’t it be the pinnacle of ecological biodiversity to be able to see a one site farming collective on the landscape – wind, sun, earth, water, light, bees, fruit, salad, crops?
I would really love to know why so many types of urban or vertical or urban farming are seen as an “also ran? “ No one method of UK food production has all the answers, no “one size fits all” lets celebrate a bit of diversity – I would prefer to call these new-fangled approaches as the perfect complement, maybe like cheese and wine or coffee and cake…