What’s going on here?

The world’s largest vertical farm has opened in Gloucestershire, growing salad leaves three times faster than a regular farm can.

It’s an indoor farm where produce grows in stacks of trays up to 15 high. It’s kept at a balmy 27 degrees with 75% humidity and has 14,500 square metres of growing space.

What does this mean?

This mode of indoor farming aims to reduce the need for expensive and carbon-intensive food imports. In the UK in winter it’s too cold to grow popular produce like lettuce – but the demand is year-round. That means they usually have to be flown or trucked in from warmer climes like Spain or Morocco.

The farm is owned by Jones Food Company (JFC), a company backed by the online supermarket Ocado. JFC has two of these farms in the UK and has plans for many more – within a decade it says it wants to supply 70% of fresh produce to UK supermarkets.

Why should we care?

Indoor farms typically use a lot of energy – and others of this type have had to shut down in recent years due to soaring electricity prices. But JFC claims to have overcome these issues with more efficient heating and humidity systems. It uses electricity from renewables and tries to conserve energy where possible.

If it can happen affordably and sustainably, vertical farming could be great news for the climate. The food system is currently a massive contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. For the UK, food miles are a significant part of the issue – food imports account for 20 million tonnes of CO2e each year. Reducing the UK’s reliance on food imports by growing more in the UK year-round could significantly reduce the climate impact of our diets.

The possible upsides to vertical farming don’t stop at reducing food miles. These farms use fewer harmful pesticides as the crops are grown in a controlled environment, protected from bugs and diseases. They’re also highly water-efficient, thanks to smart irrigation systems like closed-loop water recycling.

Be curious

????‍???? Dive into the Curious archives to find out how climate change is affecting the food supply

✈️ Check out how far your food has travelled with this food miles calculator

???? Find out more about another vertical farm in Tbilisi, Georgia

???? Fancy reducing your food miles even further? Grow your own lettuce in just 10 weeks

Image by Freepik