The Trouble With Stats [An area of just one square meter can provide 20 kg of food a year!]

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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has a robust resource on urban farming you should check out.

Urban garden cooperative workers laying down irrigation lines in a lettuce bed in Caracas ©FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri

While the focus of FAO’s work is on developing countries, the information is valuable for framing a discussion on vertical farming in a context beyond the next business model. Some of my favorite stats from that page and attached resources include:

  • Garden plots can be up to 15 times more productive than rural holdings. An area of just one square metre can provide 20 kg of food a year.
  • Horticulture can generate one job every 100 sq m garden in production, input supply, marketing and value-addition from producer to consumer.
  • Currently, approximately one-third of the world’s population is living in slums and informal settlements. If prevailing trends continue, this figure could reach 2 billion by 2030.

I also like FAO’s recognition that urban farming exists in legal grey space due to zoning and municipal issues: “Growers often operate without permits. Since it is officially “invisible”, the sector receives no public assistance or oversight in many cities.”

I stumbled across this page trying to track down a scholarly source for the claim “The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimated last year that about 15 percent of the world’s food supply was attributable to farms or greenhouses in urban locations.” I’ve also seen the source for the 15% figure attributed to the USDA as well, however, the best they say is another unattributed repetition of the quote on this NRCS PDF. This number has been circulating in a few recent articles about urban agriculture and vertical farming.

Pointing this out is a very round-about way of cautioning people from using this stat unless they can provide a reputable, scholarly source for it, especially as it becomes more popular. Frankly, through experience researching global food issues, as happy as I would be for that number to be true, it seems high.

But a very good question is…how do we get there, and even surpass it? What would it look like if our cities grew 50% of our food, not just 15?

So, if any one can send me a good source for that number, I’d be thrilled and happy to add it here. Until then, take it with a grain of salt and a dash of disdain for people reporting it unsubstantiated.

I hope you enjoyed this quick break from developments at my farm. More are sure to come, and in the meantime, here’s the first article in the series in case you missed it. Want information beyond the blog? Sign up for our free newsletter


Hydroponics Progress Pictures

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We’ve been building out the garage this past week and progress is already huge. I’m essentially turning half of my garage into a proof of concept for a hydroponic vertical farm. I’m at the very beginning: easy 2×4 framing with drywall, batt insulation (not all up yet in the pictures), and a layer of foam board on top of that. Click through to see the pictures of where we are!

garage to grow house progress pictures turning a garage into a vertical farm

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Intake and Exhaust For Indoor Farming

Want information beyond the blog? Sign up for our free newsletter. In case you missed the announcement, here’s the first article in the series on starting my vertical farm.

My contractor told me a fart fan was all I needed for exhaust for my farm. “Those fans only cost like $15!” he said. I was stoked. But, as I was walking through the aisle at Lowes with him and we got to the bathroom exhaust fans, I realized I was going to have to rethink.


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How I Picked A Site For My Farm

Want information beyond the blog? Sign up for our free newsletter. In case you missed the announcement, here’s the first article in the series on starting my vertical farm.

I was between a passive greenhouse and a refurbished garage. How did I decide?

When I started researching how I was going to take the next steps with this project, the very first question that popped into my head was “Where am I going to do this?” Initially, I was set on a large, dense city. After all, it’s what I’d been writing about for years and what has been demonstrated to work.

Of course, after talking with everyone that I’ve talked to, I learned that land and initial equipment investment were the largest expenditures for vertical farms. And I didn’t want to be like one of the many failed farms that threw a bunch of space and money at the business and walked away bankrupt like Alterrus.

How to chose a site for a vertical farm

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How much does a vertical farm cost? Maybe my farm can help you guess

I spend a lot of time looking at Google data to see specifically what people are interested in for vertical farming. Resoundingly, it’s how to do it and how much it costs. But unfortunately, asking any professional in the field right now those questions is like pulling teeth. No one wants to talk, no one wants to answer them.Hydroponic Lettuce

To be fair, part of that is because they’re extremely hard questions. I know because I’ve been asked them. Often people write vague emails with just a rough sketch of an idea in mind and expect me to do all the legwork for them. However, because each situation for a farm is so different (where are you doing it? what kind of space do you have access to? who are you selling to? etc.), it becomes impossible to answer.

People are of course resoundingly polite and friendly about it, but it feels like you never walk away with enough information.  I want to change that. While I already made this announcement on my email list (if you haven’t signed up already, check it out – there’s more early access announcements and even more content you’ll get there than what’s on the site), I want to put it out here as well.

I finally finished a deal on a space to start my own commercial hydroponics farm.

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