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.

I want to walk everyone through the pricing and the process so you can take the lessons I learned and run with them for your own endeavors. I’m going to tell you exactly how much everything costs and how much I’m producing.

Why am I sharing this and not charging consulting fees?

Because I truly believe the future of food should be decentralized, democratized, and sustainable. Farmers have been figuring out ways to grow food and sharing them with each other for thousands of years. It hasn’t been until recent history that we had even considered things like patenting genetics and shutting down seed sharing resources, and that’s wrong. The current food system is broken.

So, I want to put the power back into the hands of tenacious farmers and entrepreneurs and not have it locked into the industrial food complex. Great work is already being done in this area with various movements like agroecology and permaculture; there should be a parallel for vertical farming.

Some farmers worry about competition – if their technology gets out, their competitors will put them out of business. Well guess what? Even in areas where the most vertical farms are (cities like New York and Chicago), seasonally independent local food demands are not anywhere close to being 100% met. Competition might be something further down the road, but right now, there is too large a market.

Giving this information away for free is also an accountability tool for me. While I’ve done paid projects and consulting in the past, this is my first attempt at a small business. If I’m forced to blog about my experience, I think I’ll be more successful with my deadlines because I know I’ll have to write about them. Plus I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of you guys by being slow or lazy to accomplish my goals!

And what’s the worse that can happen if everyone learns to grow like this and has access to healthy, cheap food? That commercial farmers can’t make a buck? I doubt it. Those who hustle will continue to prosper and those that just want to learn will finally be able to do just that.

My Farm

With all that being said, I’m going to do my best to walk everyone through the steps I’m taking as I take them, following the rough process other successful farmers have taken that I talked about earlier. To give you a basic idea of what I’m working on and what you can expect to hear about in the future, I’m converting an old, worn-down garage into a hydroponics farm as a proof of concept before expansion into a larger space. There will be 3 layers of production in a mixture of DWC and NFT. I’m working with purchasers on an individual basis to determine what exactly I’ll be growing.

Green wall

To put a face to the voice of this project, here I am in front of a green wall. At the same time I’m doing this, I’m also working on some simple green wall installations.

The decisions that I’m working through right now include things like:

  • How will I insulate this garage so I don’t have to throw money into heating and cooling? [I’m going to build an interior shell, kind of like a chicken incubator, but more on that decision making process later]
  • How will ventilation work? [answered]
  • What kind of doors will the shell have? Barn doors? [probably] French? Sliding? [this is the idea I initially started with] [answered]
  • Am I going to build these things myself or am I going to buy them new? Is there a salvage shop around that would change my mind?
  • How am I going to get water to a garage? Do I even need to?
  • None of the systems I’ve previously built or worked on will work perfectly in this space. How can I adapt them or should I try something new?
  • What lighting supplier will I use?
  • Is this even legal where the project is zoned? [It is, answered]

While I’ll still have interviews (like this one, where we talk about the very reticence to share I mentioned earlier), and the occasional news story on this page, look forward to answers to those questions (including how much everything actually costs) and more about my vertical farm in the future.

Let’s learn to be vertical farmers together.

16 thoughts on “How much does a vertical farm cost? Maybe my farm can help you guess

  1. Hi Evan,

    Thanks for your transparency on this project, I greatly look forward to learning from your experiences. I am a biologist with TotalGrow Lights and have multiple conversations with folks asking for the sorts of information you plan to share here, but I only know bits and pieces of the answers from my experiences.

    If there is an opportunity to do so, I’d also be very interested in helping you put our lights to the test in terms of costs, ease of use and performance at the appropriate time. We specialize in a Broad Grow Spectrum grow light using LEDs and volumetric down-conversion optics to control directionality and spectrum.

    Thanks again!
    Jeff Mastin

      • The western region of this state is prime for leadership and innovation in this sector… Particularly with respect to lighting given the investment/advancement others are doing (Phil, Syl, and smaller independent makers) in this emerging field. An OEM would benefit from a collaborative research pilot site that may also have traction with foodies, environmentalists, education, and urban development. Multi interests are necessary for inertia.

  2. Dear Evan,
    Would you considered writing a talk explaining A) what vertical farms are B) why they are necessary and c) your vision for the future of vertical farms? I am interested in filming talks about interesting ideas given by passionate people. If you are open to the idea, please let me know.
    Diederik (curator of BriliantMinds)

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    • put dirt in shelves and stack them if you’re locked into soil. (certified organic is not the best for the planet or for the plants but if you’re locked into getting the cert. this is how you would do it)

    • You could potentially try aquaponics but commercial scale organic fish feed is currently hard to come by in most countries.

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