Fresh Water Greens: A Hydroponic Success Story

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With over 100 years of farming experience, when the Villari family decides to take us behind the curtain of their hydroponic business, you know it’s bound to be good.

Their success started with a 16 year old boy’s 75 mile walk in 1910. Sal Villari had just come from Italy with just a few words of English and enough money to buy cattle in Lancaster Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, the only place he could market his cattle was in Philadelphia and the only way he could get there was on foot. Since then the Villari farm has grown; from traditional Lancaster pasture land to a quintessential Italian vinyard, the fourth generation of Villaris are now making a splash (ha!) in hydroponics.

In this interview and case study:

  • Regina and Joe Villari take us through their business and answer some of the most common questions the Urban Vertical Project gets about hydroponic farming.
  • I summarize their data and compare it with some of the other operations we’ve looked at in order to give you the most information and context possible to plan your own endeavor.
  • I examine the cost/ sq foot of a ground-level hydroponic greenhouse and compare that with a rooftop vertical farm.
  • We also look at a really effective marketing technique Regina and Joe are using that just might blow the lid off of the organic label.

A Hydroponic Success Story

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Can you actually explain what makes LEDs so special?

LEDs are improving vertical farming like never before

Last week, the three scientists who invented blue light emitting diodes received the Nobel Prize.  It was certainly well deserved, as this was nothing short of a revolution for lighting.  image

That revolution began with their invention 20 years ago and has brought us the newest in efficient light emitting diode (LED) lighting.  These lights are so efficient that they have taken vertical farming from the pages of eco-utopian manifestos to tangible reality.

Navigant Research modeled a 63% adoption rate of LED lights for retrofitting projects by 2021.  The numbers speak for themselves.

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This is the first of a two-part piece that will explain what LEDs are in a way that anyone can understand.  First, I’m going to look at what ‘efficiency’ means for LEDs, and the implications of increased efficiency. Then, in part two, I want to show you the companies breaking new ground on the vertical farming applications of LEDs right now.  Click to the next page and let’s get started.

The first vertical farm showdown: Why you need to know what’s happening in Singapore

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Singapore may be the most important country in the world for vertical farming right now.

Corporate giant Panasonic’s new project debuted just this week and challenges exactly what the country knows about its food supply.

Inside Panasonic's new urban vertical farm

Inside Panasonic’s new farm

This is a monster blog post, but there’s a lot of information synthesized here you won’t find anywhere else.  I’m going to walk you through why Singapore is important, then I’m going to show you what is happening there with Panasonic and another company called Sky Greens, and then I’m going to explain what that might mean for the evolution of urban vertical farming.

No scholar could come up with a better  hypothetical test case for vertical farming than the realities in Singapore.  Key conditions indicating the success or even the possibility of an industrial vertical farm include:

  • Dense and urban population (Singapore is an island a little more than 3 times the size of Washington, DC with a population of 5.6 million people.  Their population is 100% urbanized)
  • Production proximity to market (New, government-sponsored industrial parks allow companies to build their businesses on the island)
  • Existing infrastructure (Singapore is a developed, high-tech country whose purchasing power parity ranks 41st in the world)
  • Cheap energy (Energy is reliable and affordable, especially when supplemented with renewable resources)
  • Legislative Support (Singapore’s government not only has the laudable sustainability goals of 20% self-sufficiency in the coming years, but also established a 20 million dollar fund to boost domestic food production.  This helps enormously in the face of insane vertical farming start-up costs.)
  • Local Demand (Expensive imports from China and Japan currently fill Singapore’s supermarkets.  Singapore only produces 7% of the produce it consumes.)

Singapore embodies each of these conditions better than almost anywhere else on the planet and I’d be hard pressed to argue that what works here, in this first battleground, is not going to affect the rest of the vertical farming industry.  To see what might be working, let’s first look at the older of the two companies, Sky Greens.