Introduction to Vertical Farming

Key Insights:

  • Vertical farming provides a realistic and sustainable solution to population growth and urbanization issues
  • Key benefits of vertical farming include reliable year-round crop production, space efficiency and environmentally friendly ways to grow crops
  • The most common crops grown are leafy greens, herbs, microgreens and spinach
  • Identifying the optimal level of light is crucial in producing high-quality products
  • One of the most common barriers to urban agriculture and vertical farming today is zoning restrictions.
  • Vaughan has recently updated its zoning by-law to permit vertical farming operations in some employment zones
  • Connect with the City of Vaughan’s Economic Development to learn how to start your vertical farming business in Vaughan

What is vertical farming?

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the world population is expected to exceed nine billion and nearly 70 per cent are projected to be living in urban areas by 2050. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that food production will have to increase by 70 per cent from the 2007 level to accommodate this growth. As we experience rapid population growth and urbanization, it will become increasingly difficult to feed the world solely through conventional farming practices. Vertical farming provides a realistic and sustainable solution to overcome these challenges.

While the industry is in the early stages of development and growth, vertical farming presents the following key benefits:

  • Reliable year-round crop production irrespective of weather conditions because crops are grown indoors and in controlled environments
  • One acre of an indoor area offers equivalent production to at least four to six acres of outdoor capacity
  • Environmentally friendly – vertical farms use significantly less water, land and it removes the need for long transportation and the use of chemicals and pesticides

Vertical farming is a form of controlled environment agriculture (CEA) where everything from temperature and humidity to light, irrigation and nutrients are precisely controlled. Vertical farms do not use sunlight because they are enclosed indoors. The most common structures are warehouses, retail stores, re-purposed buildings (barns), and shipping containers.

Considerations for starting a vertical farm

Crops

Crops grown on vertical farms usually have between one to two months of short production cycles. The most common crops grown include leafy greens (lettuce, arugula, kale, bok choy, mustard greens, swiss chard), herbs (oregano, mint, basil, cilantro, fennel, parsley, rosemary), microgreens and spinach. Utilizing the latest technologies and analytics, many research experiments are being conducted to understand the optimal methods of growing fruiting crops such as strawberries, blueberries and blueberries.

Production System

Vertical farming incorporates the following elements into productions:

  • Horizontal surfaces are stacked vertically on shelves to maximize production.
  • Vertical surfaces are what is commonly referred to as “towers”. These towers stretch from floor to ceiling with plants growing on their side.
  • Undulating path, where one row of lights is present at the top of the growing environment and plants are rotated up and down to alternate their exposure to light and shade.
Lighting

Identifying the optimal level of light is crucial in producing high-quality products. Conventional vertical farm crops such as lettuce and microgreens require between 12 to 17 daily light integral (DLI) while other crops like sweet peppers and tomatoes have higher lighting requirements of 20 to 30 DLI.

Zoning Restrictions

One of the most common barriers to urban agriculture and vertical farming is zoning restrictions. While the vertical farming industry is on the rise, many Canadian municipalities are lagging in amending their zoning by-laws to include urban agriculture. The City of Vaughan is a leader in this regard. Recognizing the tremendous economic and social benefits of vertical farming and to keep up with the pace of change in agriculture, the City has recently updated its zoning by-law to allow vertical farming operations within the Prestige Employment (EM1) and General Employment Zones (EM2). This eliminates the need to go through the Zoning By-law Amendment process, saving valuable time and money for business owners.

Vertical farming is no longer a futuristic concept. With cutting-edge technology, it is going to transform the entire agriculture industry. McGill University professor Mark Lefsrud, an expert in food security and urban agriculture predicts that while vertical farming accounts for less than one per cent of all farming in Canada, this will increase up to around 20 per cent of the total market within the next 20 years.


If you are an entrepreneur interested in learning more about how to start a vertical farming business in Vaughan, contact the Economic Development team at ed@vaughan.ca.

Sources:

Vertical Farming 101. York Region Economic Development, 2022

Vertical farming is on the rise in Ontario. TVO, 2022

The rise of indoor farming is exploding, but Canada is lagging behind. Financial Post, 2022

6 Benefits of Vertical Farming. growlink