Take Singapore for instance: a beautiful island, ultra modern, chockfull of hightech and lucky enough to have a booming economy. Unfortunately the downside of this scenario is that its five million inhabitants add up to a population density of 7669 people per square kilometre. The third highest in the world after Macao and Monaco. Hence the problem: how to provide fresh vegetables in sufficient quantities without importing them (in which case, they would not be quite so “fresh”)? Or, the related problem: how can Singapore be farmed when it has so little available land and so much concrete?
An answer has been provided by architecture, based on a consideration that is obvious to all of us: if you cannot extend horizontally, think in terms of height. This is the principle underlying “vertical farming”, a rapidly expanding activity that could solve the problem relating to the lack of green areas in large metropolises. And this brings us to F.R.A., a project by the Spanish architectural firm JAPA. The acronym stands for Floating Responsive Agriculture and basically consists in huge structures housing cultivable plots. If a city like Singapore is condemned to develop residential and office space vertically, why not do the same with crops?
In this way, F.R.A. could limit the food imports into Singapore which, at the present time, stand at around 90%, by following the example of marine aquaculture, among other activities. In fact, since way back in 1930, the Asian state has been using suspended tanks for fish farming purposes. In the case of agriculture, however, there are further complications such as the need for sun. To solve this problem, the Spanish architects have devised “loop” structures which slightly resemble those of roller coasters. “The loop shape enables the vertical structures to receive more solar energy, thus reducing the areas of shade”, explains Javier Ponce of the firm JAPA. Besides, F.R.A. can obviously rely on cutting edge technology. An impressive network of sensors, for instance, constantly monitors the characteristics of the soil, in order to understand whether it needs to be integrated with special substances or irrigated with water, of which there is certainly no shortage in Singapore. Then the centralized IT system links the farms with local markets in order to satisfy demand without incurring waste. At the present time, Floating Responsive Agriculture has gone no further than the drawing board stage but JAPA is convinced that the first prototype will be produced shortly in the harbour area of Singapore.
In the meantime, anyone interested in vertical farming can go and take a look at Scranton, Pennsylvania. In fact, this location boasts the world’s largest vertical farm to date. Built by Green Spirit Farms in a former factory, it consists of shelves with thousands of boxes for growing lettuce, basil and other types of fruit and vegetables. The ambit in which it really excels is water management: “In Arizona up to 94 litres are used per plant, but we only use 1.2 litres, thanks to a recycling system that recovers 4050%”, Milan Kluko, Chairman of Green Spirit Farms, is keen to point out. He proudly adds: “we can plant up to 10000 rocket plants and then gather them in just 2130 days”. Ecology, efficiency and cost savings: vertical farming really is the future of urban grown produce.
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