Gardening Vertically While Saving The World
The world’s population is expanding at a rapid pace, and so are our agricultural needs. The demand for fresh foods are on a rise, and now, we’re paying the price.
According to the Canadian government, we lose 20,000 to 25,000 hectares of farmland every year. This is something we cannot ignore. Farmland is disappearing at an exorbitant rate. We need to feed the world’s population, but it’s getting harder as we speak.
According to actionagainsthunger.org, the world’s largest hunger expert, one of the main causes behind starvation in the world is poor or insufficient farmland.
For centuries, the obvious decision when confronted with the need for more land has been to expand outwards, and take up a larger area on the horizontal plane.
We need to change our perception of farming, and start expanding vertically. Farmland has always grown on the XY axis. But the Z axis is also an option.
The idea of vertical farming was initially proposed by Dickson Despommier, a professor of Public and Environmental Health at Columbia University. He and his students devised a method of growing plants indoors, in multiple layers using techniques such as aquaponics, hydroponics, and aeroponics.
Despommier challenged his students to see how many Manhattanites they would be able to feed by growing plants on the rooftops of Manhattan. After extensive research, the students came up with a number. This method would be able to feed approximately 1000 people, about 2% of the Manhattan population. Unconvinced, Despommier challenged his students to find a different alternative. After some work, he and his students devised a method known as vertical farming. A 30 story vertical farm equipped with artificial lighting and automated irrigation systems promised to feed a whopping 50,000 if this became a reality.
According to Despommier, current applications of vertical farming coupled with other state-of-the-art technologies, such as specialized LED lights, have resulted in over 10 times the crop yield than what would be received through traditional farming methods.
Problem #1: Farm labor demographics are dropping at an appalling rate. With less employed at farms, there are not enough workers to sustain our growing population.
This design is intended to solve multiple problems. As the world slowly shifts into a new technological era, many are leaving behind their farms to work in more white-collared jobs. Over the past 20 years, the percentage of workers employed of the total world employment has dropped from a 40% to under 28%. As this is indeed prospective for the future in the sense that we have more employed in our technology and business sector, it leaves the world’s food industry at loss. That’s why we need as much automation as possible. And that’s exactly what this project is about.
Problem #2: Lakes are draining and irrigation is costing millions of dollars. Tons of water is wasted during the watering process. This amount grows exponentially for larger areas of soil.
Problem #3: In some countries on certain periods in the year, the sun is only shining for close to four hours in the day. This makes farming very hard and inefficient at these times of the year when growing non-native species
As astrophysics have so conveniently brought down for us, the amount of sunlight every region in the world gets is not constant throughout the year. This can often pose a large problem for farming, and can result in a very limited selection of plants that can be grown. This vertical garden has an automated lighting system, and can be set to turn on or off at specific times of the day. I was born in Norway where I grew up there for 6 years. At certain times of the year, there are only six to seven minutes of sunlight each day. This can pose a large problem to farmers in Norway. A similar situation occurs in various other places around the world.
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Problem #4: Agriculture is expanding, and we’re running out of space. With more people to feed and less aerated farmland, we need to look for a different solution.
Dickson Despommier who I mentioned earlier, authored the idea of vertical farming. He has been quoted to say:
A pioneer in vertical farming, his words reveal a slightly depressing truth about the world’s decreasing space. However, vertical farming is intended to fix these problems. With tons of surface area being layered over each other, a concern for ever decreasing space is out of the question. All we need to do is go higher.
Problem #5: A large percentage of a farmers time and effort goes into harvesting crops.
The daily life of a farmer revolves around making sure that he/ she can get their harvest on time. A farmer goes to bed at night with concerns over his crops, and wakes up for backbreaking labor to make sure that everything is ready and planted. During the harvest season, the time it takes to harvest hundreds of acres of land is enormous. In this design, everything is ready for you to harvest. Just slide out the boxes and take out the plants.
In response to the many problems I mentioned earlier, I constructed an apparatus of a vertical garden, with the intention of solving those problems that I listed.
Farm labor demographics are dropping at an appalling rate. With less employed at farms, there are not enough workers to sustain our growing population.
Lakes are draining and irrigation is costing millions of dollars. Tons of water is wasted during the watering process. This amount grows exponentially for larger areas of soil.
In some countries on certain periods in the year, the sun is only shining for close to four hours in the day. This makes farming very hard and inefficient at these times of the year when growing non-native species
Agriculture is expanding, and we’re running out of space. With more people to feed and less aerated farmland, we need to look for a different solution.
A large percentage of a farmer's time and effort goes into harvesting crops.
This vertical garden is intended to solve all of the above problems.
It is completely automated, with an artificial lighting system and hands-free irrigation. No human involvement is necessary. Just sit back, relax, and wait for the garden to do its job.
The water is compeletely reused throughout the structure. As the water enters the pump and is sprinkled onto the plants, it goes through the containers and enters the plant box just right below it. It repeats this process till the water ends up back in the collection basin, where it is ready to be pumped back into the soil the next time the plants are to be watered.
Because of the automated lighting system, the lights can be controlled to turn on and off at whatever times of the day that are necessary, to emulate real outdoor environments.
Most importantly, vertical farming saves a lot of the world's space. Farmland costs millions of dollars, and there is less and less of it worldwide. Vertical farming is designed to be built locally right in the middle of the city, in tall buildings located close by. Because of the vertical garden's shelf-like structure, all the farms space that is seeked in the country side is in the form of layers and layers of soil, reaching higer. There is no need for more land, only height.
The design and structure of the vertical garden makes harvesting plants easy and accessible. All that needs to be done is slide out a box, and pluck out the plants for consumption.
The vertical garden is operated by a pump and has artificial lighting. The circuitry also contains an RTC, for keeping track of the time and maintaining a rigid schedule. The following is a schematic of my whole circuitry.
The ESP32 board was programmed in the C++ language. Here is a preview of my code.
Sources of Errors:
- The garden was watered excessively, and twice a day was slightly too much.
- The water was released very forcefully, displacing much of the soil in the process.
- Since there was no sprinkler system, the plants were watered very unevenly, and some portions of the garden was watered envenly.
- 3D print a sprinkler tube, so that the water is sprinkled evenly on the plants.
Overall, the design worked very well.
It watered and grew plants autonomonously, over the course of two weeks.
Extensions and Future Research:
- Since not everyone knows how to code, create an app of some sort for easy accessibility.
- Find a way to creat these gardens on a much larger scale, so the can be grown outside in the city, and feeding much more people.
- For a more eco-friendly solution, solar panels can be added, to access power in an increased amount of locations where other power cannot be found.
Image Credits: https://www.clipartkey.com (Solar Panels)
- Incorporate a wide range of sensors, to enable the vertical garden to adapt to a different climate and make decisions on when to waterthe plants, without a pre-set schedule. For example, a soil moisture sensor can be incorporate to predict exactly when the plants need to be watered.
Image Credits: https://ardubotics.eu (Water Level Sensor), https://media.ncd.io (Soil Moisture Sensor), https://www.robotshop.com (Humidity and Temperature Sensor)
- Create an automated sytem for harvesting, further decreasing the harvesting time needed to zero.
Milman, O. (2015, December 02). Earth has lost a third of arable land in past 40 years, scientists say. Retrieved March 10, 2021, from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/02/arable-land-soil-food-security-shortage
Benke, K. (2017, May 24). Future food-production systems: Vertical farming and controlled-environment agriculture. Retrieved March 10, 2021, from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15487733.2017.1394054
Cooper, A. (2009, May 19). Going up? Vertical farming in high-rises raises hopes. Retrieved March 19, 2021, from https://psmag.com/environment/farming-in-high-rises-raises-hopes-3705
Image Credits (that were not explicitly listed in presentation):
Thank you to my parents for supporting me and encouraging me to do this project.
Thak you to my school's Science Fari coordinators (MR. Habot & Mrs. Cameron), for coaching me and and answering any questions I had about the science fair project.
Thank you to Mr. Yehonatan Alvarez, for giving me the ATX power supply for my project and teaching me how to use it.