Vertical farm

World’s first urban commerical farm opens in Singapore

Less than 20 miles from Singapore’s skyscrapers is a completely different set of high-rise towers. The first commercial-scale vertical farm recently opened in the tiny, densely populated city, with the aim of decreasing dependence on food imports.

Much smaller in scale but with as big an ambition, over 100 nine-meter tall towers at Sky Greens vertical farm offer a new vision of urban sustainability. Building is on-going and there are plans to add up to 2 000 in the next few years.

Green vegetables like bak choi and Chinese cabbage are grown, stacked in greenhouses, and sold at local supermarkets.

The idea of vertical farming goes back to the 1950s, but Jack Ng, farm owner and inventor of the system in place at Sky Greens, has patented elements of his design.

Slowly rotating on water-powered, aluminum A-frames, the vegetables pass through a trough of water every eight hours. The water powering the frames is recycled and filtered before returning to the plants. All organic waste on the farm is composted and reused.

“The plants don’t get overstressed under the sun… at the same time they can get nutrients in the water equally,” says Ng.

According to Ng the energy needed to power one A-frame is the equivalent of illuminating just one 60-watt light bulb.

The farm’s first prototype was built in 2009 and since last October the fully operating farm has been supplying one of city’s supermarkets with weekly deliveries of its greens. The Sky Greens produce costs around 40% more than an imported Chinese equivalent.

Singapore only produces around 7% of the vegetables it consumes. While Ng believes that an expansion of its system of vertical farming could increase that to 50%, food security is less of an immediate benefit than the reduction of “food miles.”

The small amount of energy and water needed to grow the vegetables, and the close proximity to the consumer, means that C02 emitted in production and transportation is kept to a minimum.

Sky Greens venture is supported by the Singaporean government and has another advantage over other urban farms around the world: abundant natural heating and light. Singapore has year-round temperatures of around 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) and the farm is set in an open area designated by the government as an agro-technology park, miles away from the shadow of city skyscrapers.

American ecologist Dickson Despommier has been a chief advocate for vertical farms for over decade who has imagined bigger and bolder ideas than Sky Greens’ farm…..

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