The vertical farm has been the holy grail for optimistic urbanists for decades, a way of cramming food-growing capacity into a compact space that’s perfect for serving up supplies to local residents. Self-contained and highly sustainable, promising practically zero food miles and no obvious downsides, why haven’t more high-rise homesteads haven’t been sowed within city limits around the world? The answer is complexity; an array of racks and lights needs to be constantly monitored and fettled to maximise efficiency and economy.

This new Vertical Farm project in Copenhagen is a collaboration between Taiwanese tech specialist YesHealth Group and Nordic Harvest, a Danish start-up dedicated to Vertical Agriculture in all its forms. While it’s unsurprising that this kind of thinking has taken root in space-pressed communities like Taiwan, the Danish company’s approach is rooted in a desire to return over-farmed land to a more natural state. The company points out that in the centuries following the Industrial Revolution Denmark’s forest cover was reduced to just 2 per cent of its land area – prior to this the entire country was densely forested. Even today, with its ultra-efficient forest management, the figure is still just 14 per cent.

The new vertical farm is located inside the Copenhagen Markets complex, a chunky modern logistic centre designed by CREO Arkitekter in 2015. Rising up 14 ‘storeys’, the high-tech racking is designed for purely robotic operation – planting, nurturing and harvesting. The vast trays take up 7,000 m2 and for the time being are devoted to growing salads and herbs. Technology includes LED lighting, new generation organic substrates and microbial fertilizers and hydroponic systems. Ultimately, Nordic Harvest expect to be growing berries and then root vegetables within five to ten years.

It takes 5,000 LED lights to provide the conditions for efficient growth. Custom software constantly monitors all the relevant levels and patterns to make the process as efficient as possible. When the first harvest is made in early 2021 the vertical farm will have a capacity of about 200-tonnes of produce a year; that’ll soon quadruple as the system beds in. The flipside of hyper-dense urbanism is the space and energy needed to grow and transport food. The vertical farm concept takes a leaf out of big agriculture’s dependence on technology and shutters it away in the big box structures that pepper the fringes of our cities. YesHealth and Nordic Harvest are planning aggressive growth around the world in the coming years. Whether we’ll all reap the benefits of cheaper food and more green space to enjoy is yet to be seen. §