Vertical Farming

General Introduction to Vertical Farming

By Patrick Langrine

Published 2016.11.25

Today many believe that vertical farming can help feed cities as well as contribute to the environment and limit the usage of water, land and other resources used in the normal outdoor farming process. But first, what is vertical farming? Vertical farming is another method of growing food but in a different approach. In this process crops are grown indoor in vertically stacked layers, vertically inclined surfaces and/or integrated in other structures.1 In this process, farmers don’t rely on nature to do its part in the process of farming but they use special technological tools to control factors such as sun light, water and other important factors in the growing process of plants. In this process farmers can grow many different crops, therefore the most common crops are: lettuce, kales, collard green, chives, tomatoes, chards, basil, rosemary, watercress, parsley and many more.2

Before going further into the concept it’s important to know the history and development of such process. Early signs and concepts of vertical farming first surfaced in 1909 in a drawing which showed an open air building that cultivated farms for the purpose of consumption. In 1915 the term was first used by Gilbert Ellis Bailey who wrote a book on Vertical Farming describing earliest methods of the process. Although the concept existed for almost a century it wasn’t until 1999 inside a classroom in Columbia University in New York, where Dr. Dickson Despomierre took the concepts further to what it is today in order to identify ways to deal with wide varieties of environmental issues. Today Dr. Despomierre is considered the Father of Vertical Farming because of his significant contribution on the subject matter leading to what it is today.3

Starting a vertical farm can be very costly with ten main systems to have in place to supplement each other in the process. Below is a basic cost estimation provided from Columbia University from conceptual setups of a vertical Farm. Please note the total figure for set up potential cost does not include maintenance and operation costs. Please refer to Table 1 below

Table 14

Cost System
$25,000,000 Sub-structure and electro-chromic glass shell
$  2,500,000 1000 ton Geothermal HVAC
$     500,000 400 ton chiller + cooling tower
$11,000,000 Biogas to fuel cell cogeneration facility
$      500,000 800 kWh/day tracking photovoltaic array
$  2,000,000 4,500 kW water-cooled lighting system
$35,000,000 Energy infrastructure and automation systems
$     500,000 Living machine-based water recycling system
$ 1,700,000 Floating garden hydroponic system

As with most process, there are two sides of the process that are important to share. The front side are the advantages and the flipside are the disadvantages. Though both can be weighed in it is up to any individual to decide whether or not he/she wants to pursue this type of farming. Some of the most promising advantages of vertical farming: it can increase and produce all year long, it is in house and protected from weather issues, the crops are organic as they require no use of chemical pesticides, it requires the use of water by 70% lower, very environment friendly, very human health friendly, conserves energy and it offers sustainable urban growth.5 Switching to the flipside, some of the major disadvantages of vertical farming are: it’s a high cost method and the variety of crops to grow in such process is limited.6

Today the concept of vertical farming has reached Hawaii’s shore in the form of Metrogrow. Founded by a former Teacher and Professor Kerry Kakazu, Metrogrow is a vertical farm located on an 800 square foot second floor complex off Auahi and Cooke Streets right in the heart of Kaka’ako. Varieties of crops that are grown in this small yet growing indoor farm are: lettuce and ice plants. Also in the mix of crops are different types of micro-greens such as: sorrel, scallions, thai basil and red shiso. The farm also grows three types of shoots which are: garden pea, tendreal pea, and golden corn.7 Though still considered small, Metrogrow is able to sell it’s crops to restaurants such as Yohei Sushi, Tango, Stage Restaurant and Vino.8

Looking into the future, there is possible chance that more of vertical farming and its concepts will be practiced more here in Hawaii. Though it may not in full form yet, little by little it will transform in the near future. As Climate Change and Global Warming affect the environment here in Hawaii more people will want to seek other ways of growing foods. In addition, as more and more people are buying into the idea of sustainable economy, food production ideas such as vertical farming will most likely be among our best choices.




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  1. Heu, O. (June 2, 2015). MetroGrow Hawaii: Kaka’ako First Urban Vertical Farm. Retrieved from