A comprehensive guide to vertical farming

A comprehensive guide to vertical farming

Vertical farming is changing the face of agriculture. This guide explains how vertical farming works and how it improves the sustainability of our food production systems.

In an era of rapid urbanization, population growth, and pressing climate challenges, vertical farming presents an innovative and practical response. It won’t solve all our problems, but it will reduce deforestation, soil degradation, water pollution, and the chemical overload caused by traditional farming methods.

Instead of sprawling fields extending to the horizon, imagine layers of produce growing upward, stacked with precision within urban structures. This isn’t a vision of the far-off future. Vertical farming is happening right now, transforming vacant city spaces into thriving hotspots of sustainable food production. Learn more as we dive into the concept, relevance, and future of vertical farming.

The concept: What is vertical farming?

Vertical farming is the practice of plant production on vertically inclined surfaces or stacked layers, much like the floors of a building. It uses advanced techniques such as hydroponics, aeroponics, and aquaponics to nourish the plants, allowing us to usher forth an era of large-scale, sustainable urban agriculture.

The history and evolution of vertical farming

The concept of vertical agriculture may sound pioneering, but it’s far from a new idea. Ancient civilizations, like the Babylonians with their Hanging Gardens, were the first to conceptualize farming on multiple levels. However, modern vertical agriculture, driven by our latest technological advancement, began taking shape in the early 20th century.

American geologist Gilbert Ellis Bailey coined the term “vertical farming” in 1915. However, significant developments first emerged at the turn of the 21st century when technology started catching up with the ambitions of the vertical agriculture forerunners.

Dr. Dickson Despommier, a Columbia University professor, played a crucial role in popularizing vertical farming. With his students, he envisioned skyscraper farms to combat food shortages and reduce harmful environmental impacts.

Why is vertical farming gaining attention?

Vertical farming presents a unique approach to sustainable agriculture, overcoming many challenges faced by traditional farming. It uses up to 95 percent less water, vastly reduces the use of pesticides, and can produce crops year-round regardless of climate conditions.

Moreover, vertical farms can be located in urban areas, significantly reducing the distance between production and consumption. As such, it can provide fresher produce and reduce carbon emissions from transportation. 

In a world grappling with the effects of climate change and a rapidly growing population, these features are not just attractive; they’re becoming increasingly necessary.

The need for vertical farming in today’s world

Modern society faces a conundrum: the pressing need to feed a growing population in the face of shrinking arable lands and erratic climate conditions. The UN predicts that by 2050 the world’s population will surge to 9.7 billion, and 68 percent of us will live in cities. 

At the same time, traditional farming faces significant challenges, including water scarcity, soil degradation, and increasing energy costs. 

As our urbanization continues, ecological consciousness becomes increasingly crucial. Our future depends on creative solutions, and vertical farming heeds the call for sustainable and resilient agriculture that will feed our coming generations.

Related article: Towards a sustainable future with vertical farming

Understanding vertical farming

Let’s unearth the scientific ingenuity that underpins vertical farming, for there is much more to it than just stacking crops. The concept is built on meticulous principles and sophisticated techniques that ensure sustainable, productive, and efficient agriculture.

Basic principles of vertical farming

Vertical farming is based on three core principles: Controlled-environment agriculture (CEA), optimized light, and precise nutrient management. 

By mastering these elements, vertical farming can thrive in settings far removed from the traditional fields of agriculture. As a result, it breaks the barriers of seasonality and geography that often constrain conventional farming.

The role of controlled environments in indoor farming

The most fundamental aspect of vertical farming is the idea of controlled-environment agriculture. CEA can precisely control temperature, humidity, and other environmental factors impacting plant growth by bringing the farm indoors or into purpose-built structures. 

This level of control enables year-round crop production, regardless of external weather or climate conditions, setting the stage for uninterrupted green harvests.

The role of light in vertical farming: Understanding photoperiods and spectrum

Light is the catalyst that triggers photosynthesis. In vertical farming, we consider not only the intensity of light but also its spectrum and photoperiod. LEDs are often employed in vertical farms. Their tunability allows growers to adjust the light spectrum to suit specific plant needs. 

Various crops have different preferences for light intensity, spectrums, and photoperiods (day/night cycles). With LED technology, we can fine-tune these factors to maximize growth and optimize yield.

Related article: LED grow lights for tastier food and a healthier planet

Nutrient management: The key to plant health and productivity

A plant’s relationship with nutrients is not unlike our own with food; it’s vital for growth, health, and productivity. In vertical farming, plants typically receive their nutrients through hydroponic, aeroponic, or aquaponic systems, where nutrients are dissolved in water and delivered directly to the plant roots. 

This precise nutrient management system reduces the resources required for cultivation and maximizes plant health and productivity.

Types of Vertical Farming

Broadly speaking, vertical farms fall into two categories: Building-based and container-based vertical farms. Each of these options offers unique advantages.

Building-based Vertical Farms

Building-based vertical farms, as the name suggests, are typically housed within existing structures like skyscrapers, abandoned factories, or warehouses. This type of vertical farm can span multiple floors, making it an ideal solution for urban environments where land is scarce. 

Container-based Vertical Farms

Container-based vertical farms, on the other hand, are self-contained, mobile units that can be located anywhere with a power source. They offer a versatile and compact alternative, ideal for urban locations with space constraints. 

Often retrofitted from shipping containers, these farms encapsulate the essence of sustainable agriculture. They promote a circular economy by giving a new lease of life to what would otherwise be considered waste.

The four types of vertical farms

Hydroponics, aeroponics, aquaponics, and soil-based techniques are the primary methods used in vertical farming. They all follow distinct principles and requirements. Understanding how the four types function and differ provides further insight into the core operations.

Related article: Understanding hydroponics, aeroponics, and aquaponics


The root of hydroponics lies in water – it’s a method of growing plants without soil, where nutrients are delivered directly to plant roots via a water-based solution. This soil-less approach provides a sterile, controllable environment, maximizing plant growth and efficiency.

A typical hydroponic system consists of a nutrient solution reservoir, a delivery system, a plant support structure, and a light source. Ensuring a balance between these components is critical to creating a thriving hydroponic environment.

Hydroponics is a highly efficient method with precise nutrient control and high crop yield. However, it can be costly to set up and requires close monitoring to prevent nutrient imbalances or system failures.

Read more: Hydroponics: An in-depth guide to soilless plant cultivation


Aeroponics takes soil-less cultivation a step further by suspending roots in the air and delivering nutrients via a mist or aerosol. This gives the roots full access to oxygen which accelerates growth rates.

An aeroponic system requires a growth chamber for plant support, a nutrient misting system, a light source, and a temperature and humidity control system. Mastering this intricate system design can lead to impressive harvests.

Aeroponics boasts superior oxygenation, rapid growth rates, and efficient nutrient use. However, the system is complex and requires meticulous maintenance to prevent nozzle blockages or malfunctions that could harm crops.


Aquaponics combines aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics in a symbiotic loop. The fish waste provides organic food for plants, and the plants naturally filter the water for the fish.

An aquaponic system consists of a fish tank, a biofilter for waste conversion, a hydroponic subsystem for plants, and a sump to balance water levels. If maintained properly, this loop creates a sustainable ecosystem with minimal waste.

The success of an aquaponic system depends on carefully selecting compatible fish and plant species. It also requires maintaining optimal water pH and temperature and carefully monitoring nutrient levels to ensure a healthy, productive system.

Vertical farming with soil

Soil-based techniques are also employed in certain vertical farming scenarios. It involves using traditional soil mediums but in a vertical, space-saving manner.

Soil-based indoor farming requires selecting soil rich in organic matter and nutrients. In addition, amendments like compost, manure, or perlite may be needed to improve soil structure or nutrient content.

Managing water, nutrients, and pest control in a soil-based vertical farm can be challenging. Utilizing efficient irrigation, organic fertilizers, and integrated pest management techniques are crucial to optimizing this system.


From concept to harvest:
A complete guide to starting a vertical farm

Welcome to our comprehensive guide on starting a vertical farm. We will walk you through every step of the journey from understanding the concept to reaping your first harvest.

The science behind vertical farming

Behind the elegant appearance of modern vertical farms is an intricate scientific blueprint. These unseen elements – the LED lights bathing plants in their vibrant glow, the advanced climate control systems, and the precise nutrient delivery mechanisms –are the heart and soul of vertical farming.

The role of LED lights in vertical farming

Like artists of photosynthesis, plants require light to craft their masterpiece – food. In vertical farming, sunlight is replaced by a technological substitute: LED lights. The choice of LEDs isn’t arbitrary but tailored to the unique needs of vertical farms. 

LED’s efficiency, longevity, and tunability make vertical farming the most precise form of agriculture in human history. It allows growers to tailor light spectrum and intensity to each crop’s specific needs, optimizing growth and encouraging maximum yield.

Climate control in vertical farming

In the controlled environment of a vertical farm, the climate isn’t left to the whims of Mother Nature. Instead, it’s deftly conducted by climate control systems. These systems manage temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide levels, and airflow, ensuring that every element resonates in perfect harmony for optimal plant growth. 

Nutrient delivery systems

Every vertical farm has an intricate network of nutrient delivery systems. These veins deliver a carefully concocted cocktail of nutrients directly to the plant roots, ensuring the plant growth receives the nutrition they require to thrive.

It’s a precise, efficient process that reduces the waste typically associated with conventional agriculture. This nutrient management is underpinned by science and technology and is integral to vertical farming’s efficiency and sustainability.

Automation and Robotics

Advanced vertical farms employ a significant level of automation and robotics to enhance operational efficiency and achieve precise results. In commercial vertical farming operations, both nutrient and photon distribution are typically fully automated.

The advanced automation systems encompass crop logistics, allowing seamless movement of plants across various stages of production. This includes tasks such as seeding, germination, propagation, growth, and harvesting. Additionally, the process of harvesting, re-seeding of growth trays, and packaging the produce can be fully or partially automated, depending on the farm’s specific setup.

Related article: Vertical farming technology game-changers: IoT, AI & robotics

Benefits of vertical farming

The transformative idea of vertical farming is not just about reimagining the space we grow in but also about conquering the disadvantages of traditional agriculture. This is why CEA are gaining global traction so fast. So, let’s consider why companies and researchers worldwide invest heavily in vertical farming.

Environmental benefits: Water and energy efficiency

Vertical farming wears its water and energy efficiency as a badge of honor. Thanks to its precision irrigation techniques, it uses up to 95 percent less water than conventional farming. In addition, the stacking of crops reduces land use and energy consumption for transportation, making vertical farms a beacon for environmental stewardship. On top of that, vertical farming practices usually avoid any agri-chemicals, pollution or run-offs.

Reduction in pesticide use: Promoting healthier produce

With the controlled environment of vertical farming, the dependency on harmful pesticides is significantly reduced or eliminated. This move towards a more organic approach means healthier produce, a boon to modern consumers who are increasingly conscious of what we consume and how it affects our health.

Space efficiency: Maximizing yield per square meter

In vertical farming, the sky is literally the limit. By growing upwards, it transforms the way we conceive agricultural space, squeezing more yield out of each square meter. In our land-scarce and rapidly urbanizing world, this novel approach to space is nothing short of revolutionary.

Predictable and consistent yields: Overcoming seasonal challenges

Vertical farming hums a consistent tune, unaffected by seasonal ebbs and flows. Inside the controlled environment, crops grow year-round, enabling farmers to forecast yields accurately, to great aid for various supply chains and consumer demands.

Plant quality: Addressing urban food demand

Vertical farming produces not just abundant plant growth but also superior quality. High-quality, fresh produce harvested in the heart of urban areas can address the rising food demand in cities. This will, in turn, bridge the gap between farm and fork and foster local food security.

Related article: The benefits of vertical farming (environmental, economic, and social)

Challenges and limitations of vertical farming

But as promising as vertical farming is, it’s not without its challenges and limitations. Like any innovative concept, it’s a work in progress, grappling with constraints that must be understood and addressed.

High initial cost: Infrastructure and technology investment

Building a vertical farm involves significant upfront investment. Everything from infrastructure to advanced technologies like LED lighting, climate control systems, and hydroponic setups must be accounted for. The price tag can get intimidating, especially for small-scale farmers or start-ups.

Energy consumption: Evaluating the carbon footprint

While vertical farming is water-efficient, it does require substantial energy, particularly for lighting and climate control systems. This energy demand can offset some of its environmental benefits and contribute to its carbon footprint.

Technical expertise required: Operational challenges

Operating a vertical farm is not for the faint-hearted. It requires a deep understanding of plant biology, mastery over advanced farming technologies, and constant monitoring and adjustments. The steep learning curve can pose operational challenges.

Related article: Vertical farming challenges: Turning disadvantages to our advantage

Crop limitations: What works and what doesn’t?

Not all crops are suited for vertical farming. While leafy greens and herbs thrive, larger crops like corn or root vegetables pose a challenge due to their size or growth patterns. The choice of crops is thus somewhat limited.

Vertical farming emerges as an exciting agricultural frontier in this sweeping panorama of benefits and challenges. It is a testament to human ingenuity in the face of pressing global challenges. And its story has only just begun. As technology improves, so does vertical farming.


Choosing the right vertical farming crops: A detailed guide

Download our guide to explore key aspects, including crop selection basics, farming environment understanding, light, temperature, humidity, nutrients, and market demand.

Vertical farming and food security

With the world teetering on the brink of a food crisis, vertical farming emerges as a shimmering light guiding us toward sustainable solutions. By playing a pivotal role in urban agriculture, bolstering local economies, and promising a path to address the global food crisis, vertical farming holds a promise to aid our future food security.

Impact on local economies

As vertical farms sprout in cities, they bring more than just fresh greens—they cultivate thriving local economies. These high-tech farms create jobs, stimulate investment in technology and infrastructure, and support local supply chains. They also foster a local food culture, promoting community engagement and awareness around sustainability and healthy eating.

Addressing the global food crisis

By harnessing vertical space, even the most densely populated cities can contribute to global food production, turning the pressing problem of feeding our future generations into an innovative solution. 

Vertical farming enables us to integrate food production into the heart of urban landscapes, blurring the line between the rural and urban, nature and technology. 

It’s a daring vision, yet it’s unfolding right now, laying the groundwork for a more secure, sustainable, and resilient food production system.

Case studies of successful vertical farms

Just as every plant in a vertical farm has undergone spectacular growth, so too have the many vertical farms around the globe. Whether nestled in the heart of a bustling city or redefining a sleepy suburb, these high-tech farms prove just how potent and adaptable vertical farming can be. So, let’s embark on a world tour, visiting noteworthy pioneers across North America, Europe, and Asia.

North America – AeroFarms & Bowery

Our first stop is North America, home to some of the biggest companies in vertical farming. AeroFarms, a New Jersey-based trailblazer, has been perfecting its aeroponic growing system, which requires no soil or sunlight. With the capacity to grow up to 390 times more produce per square meter than traditional farming, AeroFarms is revolutionizing the idea of ‘farm-to-table.’

Further, we find Bowery Farming, an innovative player whose high-tech indoor farms are turning heads in the industry. With their AI-driven farming approach, Bowery ensures precise and controlled crop growth conditions, delivering consumers a bouquet of fresh, pesticide-free greens.

Europe – Infarm

Moving across the Atlantic, we land in Europe, where Infarm, a German-based innovation leader, is redefining the contours of vertical farming. Its unique distributed model places small vertical farms directly in grocery stores, restaurants, and schools. By decentralizing food production, Infarm brings consumers face-to-face with their food, merging the spheres of agriculture, retail, and education.

Asia – Spread & Sky Greens

Our journey ends in Asia, where the Japanese firm Spread is leading the vertical farming revolution with its automated lettuce factory, capable of producing an astounding 30,000 heads of lettuce per day. Spread’s technologically advanced setup highlights a remarkable scalability.

Meanwhile, in Singapore, Sky Greens’ towering vertical farms are a testament to the power of innovation in space-scarce environments. Leveraging unique hydraulic-driven rotating towers, Sky Greens achieves efficient, high-volume production of local greens, making a compelling case for vertical farming in urban settings.

These trailblazing enterprises, scattered across the globe, are not just growing plants but cultivating a vision of the future. Each, in its unique way, takes vertical farming one step closer to becoming a vital part of our global food system. 

The future of vertical farming: Opportunities and trends

As we stand at the crossroads of agriculture and technology, the future of vertical farming unfurls before us. It’s an enticing tapestry woven with threads of innovation, sustainability, and urban integration. Let’s delve into this vista of opportunities and trends shaping vertical farming’s future contours.

Technological innovations: AI, robotics, and IoT in vertical farming

Imagine a farm where AI analyzes plant needs in real-time, robots dutifully attend to crops, and IoT devices connect every leaf and root to a cloud-based data center. This vision is swiftly becoming a reality as vertical farms integrate cutting-edge technologies to enhance precision, efficiency, and scalability. The convergence of AI, robotics, and IoT will undoubtedly redefine our farming practices as we step into the future.

Related article: Vertical farming technology game-changers: IoT, AI & robotics

Integration with renewable energy sources: Towards carbon-neutral vertical farms

The quest for carbon neutrality is giving rise to an exciting trend: The integration of vertical farms with renewable energy sources. Solar panels on the roof, wind turbines on the side, or even geothermal systems underneath could provide the necessary power for these high-tech farms. As these hybrid models take root, we edge closer to the dream of carbon-neutral vertical farms, ushering in a new era of sustainable agriculture.

The potential for vertical farming in urban planning: From rooftops to warehouses

The city of the future could very well be a green metropolis, with vertical farms woven seamlessly into the urban fabric. As architects and urban planners recognize the potential of vertical farming, we will see more rooftop farms, greenhouses breathing life into old warehouses, and wall farms gracing public spaces. The convergence of urban planning and vertical farming promises a future where every cityscape is a foodscape.

Potential for growth and expansion

The world of vertical farming is ripe for growth and expansion. With an increasing global population, the demand for fresh, locally-grown produce is rising. As more stakeholders recognize the benefits and potential of indoor farming, we can expect a surge in investment and innovation in this sector. 

The seeds of CEA have been sown, germinating into a movement that promises a greener, more sustainable, and food-secure future. As we venture into this future, the opportunities and trends showcased here will guide our way, cultivating a world where vertical farming isn’t the exception but the norm.

Getting started with vertical farming

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and so does the journey into vertical farming. As an aspiring vertical farmer, you stand on the precipice of a transformative venture. Here, we delve into essential considerations and planning and share some of our best tips and practices to ensure that your vertical farm thrives.

Essential considerations and planning

Embarking on the vertical farming odyssey is akin to planting a seed. It demands a nurturing blend of vision, patience, and planning. Key considerations include the choice of crops, selection of a farming system (hydroponics, aeroponics, etc.), climate control requirements, and budget planning.

Understanding the nuances of vertical farming systems, the interplay of light, air, and nutrients, and the economic viability of your endeavor is crucial for laying a solid foundation.

Resources and support

Every fledgling vertical farmer needs a supportive ecosystem to take flight. Various resources are at your disposal: There are many educational programs to hone your skills, research institutions advancing the science of vertical farming, and funding opportunities to bootstrap your enterprise. 

Industry conferences and networking events also provide platforms to learn from the experiences of pioneers in the field and forge valuable connections.

Ensuring success: Tips and best practices

Success in vertical farming is much like growing a healthy plant – it combines art and science. Some essential tips to ensure your vertical farm’s success is leveraging technology for precision agriculture, optimizing resource use, maintaining stringent hygiene standards, and investing in continual learning and adaptation. 

Remember, vertical farming is an evolving field, and staying attuned to advancements and trends will help you stay a cut above the rest.

Vertical agriculture is more than a method – it’s a movement that strives for a sustainable and secure food future. As you gear up to join this movement, remember that every challenge encountered is a stepping stone toward growth. Let’s take that first step into the future, a future where the sky is not the limit but the canvas for our vertical farming dreams.

Related article: Choosing the right vertical farming crops: A detailed guide

Takeaway from our dive into vertical farming

As our journey through the realms of vertical agriculture draws a close, let’s take a moment to gaze back at the landscape we’ve traversed. Then, we’ll look beyond the horizon at the bountiful future that vertical farming promises.

Our exploration shows how vertical agriculture transforms urban spaces into vibrant green canvases, melding concrete with chlorophyll in an elegant dance of sustainability. 

Vertical farming reconciles urban growth with ecological balance by integrating agriculture within city landscapes. As such, it turns skyscrapers into sky farms and gray cities into green hubs.

As the global population swells and traditional agriculture struggles to meet growing food demands, vertical farming offers hope. Its potential lies in maximized yield per square foot, controlled growing conditions, and sustainable year-round production. 

Final thoughts: Vertical farming and its impact on society

Vertical farming is more than a practice; it’s a paradigm shift, a new chapter in humanity’s age-old agricultural story. It reimagines how we relate to our food, our cities, and our planet.  

It blends technology with tradition and innovation with intuition. In its growth, it carries the promise of a more food-secure, environmentally conscious, and healthier society.

This exploration of vertical farming is about more than understanding new techniques; it’s about envisioning a greener, healthier, and more connected future. 

As we conclude, remember: Every seed sown in a vertical farm isn’t just a plant in the making – it’s cultivating a better future for us all.


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What crops are best suited for vertical farming?

Leafy greens like lettuce, kale, and spinach thrive in v-farming systems. Herbs, microgreens, and strawberries are also popular choices. The controlled environment allows for cultivating a diverse range of crops, not just those traditionally grown in the region.

How much does it cost to start a vertical farm?

The initial setup cost for a vertical farm varies greatly, depending on the scale, technology, and location. A small-scale indoor farm might start at a few thousand dollars, while a commercial setup could cost millions. Operational costs such as energy, maintenance, and labor also factor into the overall investment.

How can vertical farming contribute to climate change mitigation?

Vertical farming is a powerhouse when it comes to climate change mitigation. Localizing food production slashes transportation emissions. The closed-loop systems reduce water usage by up to 95 percent, and pesticide-free practices promote healthier ecosystems. Moreover, the potential for integration with renewable energy sources can further reduce its carbon footprint.


AgFunderNews: Consumer Demand For ‘Clean Food’ Driving Asia’s Indoor Agriculture Market – breaking report
Agweek: The cutting-edge technology that will change farming
DW: Turning the tide on land degradation
Hortibiz Daily: Vertical farming and the future of automation in agriculture
HortiDaily: The CEA space expected to grow heavily in 5-10 years
Mitsubishi Chemical Group: Plant Factory: Sustainable agriculture beneficial for the environment, consumers, and producers
United Nations: Global Land Outlook 2nd edition
United States Department of Agriculture: Advances in greenhouse automation and controlled-environment agriculture


We are seeking contact with people that want to contribute to a better environment. Employees, customers, chefs, investors and equipment manufacturers.

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A comprehensive guide to vertical farming

A comprehensive guide to vertical farming

Master the art of vertical farming with our comprehensive guide. Explore the benefits, techniques, and success stories of vertical farming.

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