Israel a vertical farming hot spot?

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You know that feeling when a hundred disparate conversations all start linking together? That’s how I feel about Israel right now. And it just might point to the next vertical farming hot spot.

Israel World's Fair Vertical Farming

Israel nailed the theme at this year’s world’s fair, or officially, the “2015 Milan World Expo.” “Feeding the Planet. Energy for Life.” is something that they excel at and we’re going to take a quick look at why and what it means.

The expo/fair (admit it, “expo” is too metropolitan for something you imagine in sepia hues) has been going on for a few months, but it hasn’t been mentioned on the Urban Vertical Project except briefly in this hydroponics interview. It’s such a massive event that the official site hasn’t even finished cataloging all the exhibits. It has, however, given Israeli hydroponics and Israeli vertical farming a chance to shine.

Their contribution to the fair is “Fields of Tomorrow,” a massive green wall (here’s some others to check out as well as a rundown on some of their unexpected biophilic benefits) that’s actually growing wheat, rice, and corn. We’ve been hearing it for years; vertical farming, which we are counting green walls as a part of, cannot grow high-calorie crops. It’s more suited for leafy greens and herbs. This Israeli exhibit flies in the face of that conventional wisdom.

Though it might not be quite to snuff economically, the Israelis have proven that it is at least physically possible. Designed by architect David Knafo, the wall is 70 meters long and 12 meters high, the wall features another area (besides vertical growing) that the Israelis excel at: drip irrigation. Their drip irrigation technologies are being used at a massive scale in China as well as their own country.

The disparate conversations I’ve been having that all link to Israel have been about their exhibit. They’ve been about the strides they are making in efficient irrigation. But they’ve also been about something even more high tech than vertical farming; desalination. So Israel is making huge strides in these three separate technologies that all have to do with efficient use of water, but why?

The answer probably has a lot to do with Israeli geography. Though much of Israel borders a large body of water, it is of little help for either drinking or agricultural activities. The Red Sea and the Mediterranean are both filled with salt water and the desert terrain that predominates Israel’s landscape does not improve the nation’s freshwater propensity.

Vertical Farm in Dubai

Image Courtesy of Green Prophetvertical farm in Dubai

So innovation is key. Alternative ways to live and alternative ways to grow are necessary for prosperity in Israel and the world at large in the face of climate patterns skewing more and more extreme. This hits especially close to home on the West Coast of the United States. The California drought is projected to result in a loss of $1.84 billion and more than 10,000 jobs in California alone, according to a recent study from the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Engineering Sciences.

Other nations, like Dubai (above), Qatar’s Sahara Forest Project, and this project in Ethiopia are all showcasing how to grow food in space-efficient conditions amidst a challenging, if not outright hostile, environment as they’ve been dealing with water scarcity for years.

At this point, some are even calling Israel the world’s agritech capital. While that remains to be seen (I know of a few US startups and at least one big corporation that rhymes with don-lanto that might beg to differ), Israel is certainly well on its way to reaching that title.


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