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Sustainable food production using high density vertical growing (VertiCrop™)
Europe’s first vertical farm is currently being piloted with VertiCropTM at Paignton Zoo in Devon. It is experimenting High Density Vertical Growing as a sustainable solution to feeding increasing urban populations in twenty-first century towns and cities. The technology comes at a time when alternative land uses, such as biofuel and fiber production, are competing with traditional food production for the available soil and water resource. While increasing pressure is being placed on the managers of land to adapt and contribute to the mitigation of climate change through less intensive resource management. VertiCropTM (VC) is an integrated hydroponic approach that addresses the central issue of optimising resource use to grow crops near to where they are consumed, using the most advanced technology to ensure efficient crop production. Advanced irrigation equipment and a soilless culture removes the need for good agricultural land, while utilizing vertical space further reduces the area of land required to grow any crop. The pilot project grows 11,200 plants in a greenhouse of 100 m2, using a conveyor driven stacked growing system various micro greens, lettuce and salad mixes have been planted sequentially to provide a regular supply of fresh green leaves; with the primary focus of economic profitability, improved nutritional value and environmental enrichment to improve animal feeding regimes at the zoo. The potential of VC opens up the way for schools, hospitals and housing estates in cities and towns to grow their own vegetables, to reduce their carbon footprint and associated food miles. In the future, it will be possible to extend the research direction to include vertical cultivation of food, biofuels and medicinal crops, such as high market value pharmaceutical products.