The core technology of modern-day hydroponics relates to the nourishment of plants without the requirement of soil. In essence, it refers to a space-saving solution that makes use of mineral nutrient solutions in water, as opposed to ‘wasteful’ land and farms. And while this technological ambit may seem to be out of the bounds of practicality, there are quite a few agricultural success stories of hydroponic farming, ranging from massive repurposed shopping malls to WW2-era bunkers. So without further ado, let us take a gander at four advanced hydroponic solutions that have also proved to be feasible.
1) Green in the City –
Situated on top of Israel’s oldest shopping mall in Tel Aviv, Green in the City is a spectacular urban farm that produces a variety of leafy vegetables all year round, thanks to organic and hydroponic agricultural techniques that don’t require soil. As revealed by the developers, it is just one of the many green initiatives undertaken by the Dizengoff Center mall, which also houses a rooftop apiary, specially-designed habitats for birds, a tree nursery as well as a bat cave.
In terms of figures, Green in the City includes two greenhouses with a total planting area of around 750 square meters, which together produce over 10,000 heads of a variety of leafy vegetables throughout the year. At any given time, as many as 17 different types of vegetables and herbs are grown in conjunction, on a rotational basis.
The process, which is based on the Deep Water Culture system, starts by placing the seedlings directly underneath the holes in the floating foam rafts. As the roots slowly grow through the holes, the water below them gets insulated from the incident sunlight. Using an air pump, the water is then oxygenated and infused with nutrients that in turn facilitate the growing process. The water, oxygen, and nutrient levels are carefully monitored throughout the year for best results – and the collective effort allows the hydroponic setup to grow vegetables twice as fast as conventional methods while using less water and land and producing less waste.
2) Gotham Greens’ Chicago Facility –
Touted as the world’s largest rooftop urban farm, Gotham Greens’ newly-erected facility is situated on top of Method Products’ manufacturing unit, in Chicago’s Pullman area. This humongous 75,000-sq-ft state-of-the-art greenhouse can produce a total of 10 million crops per year. These crops are grown using advanced hydroponic techniques, which in turn yield over 30 times more produce per acre than conventional field-based agriculture.
In addition to its sustainable crop production techniques, the Gotham Greens is known to recycle 100-percent of its irrigation water, and even requires 10-percent less water than traditional agricultural practices. It strives to eliminate food waste, while also helping in the reduction of environmentally-harmful greenhouse emissions.
And lastly, given the scope of the project, it also supports the local agricultural network by providing both employment opportunities and food availability. To that end, the crops, produced in the Chicago farm, will be made available to a number of local and national retailers in the city, including Peapod, Whole Foods Market, Sunset Foods, Treasure Island, Target, Plum Market and so on. Furthermore, the company has joined hands with several Chicago-based institutions, such as the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Pilot Light, Greater Roseland West Pullman Food Network, Chicago Botanical Garden’s Windy City Network, and others.
3) The Bomb Shelter Hydroponic Farm –
Situated 100 feet (around 30 m) below the streets of Clapham, London was a defunct WW2-era bomb shelter that was originally built to provide protection to over 8,000 people during enemy air-raids. And in 2015, more than 70 years after the end of the war, the underground area was transformed into what was likely the country’s first subterranean farm, known as Growing Underground. Owned by entrepreneurs Steve Dring and Richard Ballard, it is currently the site for incredibly hi-tech and sustainable hydroponic farming, of small, leafy greens.
The subterranean eco-system of Growing Underground utilizes energy-efficient LEDs to provide the light necessary for the plants’ growth. Featuring a range of advanced technologies, it requires zero pesticides, over 70-percent less water than open-field agriculture and substantially less energy than a greenhouse. The enterprise is part of Zero Carbon Food, a company, jointly owned by Dring and Ballard, that uses abandoned underground spaces and hydroponic systems for growing leafy greens and herbs.
Interestingly enough, this lack of dependency on weather conditions actually ensures consistent product quality, all year round. Among the plants grown in the underground farm are small crops like pea shoots, radish, cilantro (coriander), garlic chives and mustard leaf, and salad greens with short growth cycles, such as watercress, Thai basil, and Japanese mizuna. The farm’s proximity to London means that the produce can be packed and distributed to the city’s restaurants and caterers in less than four hours of being harvested.
4) The Shipping Container Hydroponic Farm –
In a conventional circumstance, an old warehouse shipping container can’t be pushed forth as the ideal candidate for efficient farming. But Local Roots challenges this notion with aplomb, via their hydroponic farming solutions christened as the TerraFarm. The incredible design in question here pertains to 40-ft long shipping containers that only require five to twenty gallons of water for growing a variety of food items, ranging from lettuce, kale to even strawberries.
The recirculated water translates to using up to 99 percent less water than regular outdoor agriculture. The effective use of water is further complemented by the integration of sensors that provide control over various parameters like atmospheric, nutrient and water conditions within the farm. The combination of these processes is touted to result in production volume (and growth time) increase by 50 percent.
Furthermore, adding to the advantages of recycled water and smart sensors, TerraFarms utilize their custom-engineered LED lights that are tailored to focusing precise wavelengths of light. The lighting technique ‘brings out’ required qualities for the specific organic matter and plants alike. For example, the all-important chlorophyll is known to absorb red and blue light, and consequently, the farm interior adopts a purplish ambiance. In essence, with the control of LEDs, the farms can emphasize on particular characteristics that keep their produce fresh, nutritious and discernible. At the same time, the entire method eschews any form of pesticide or herbicide.