Vertical farming: Looking Up for Sustainable Food Solutions

written by IFCO SYSTEMS, 10th December 2020, in Food Safety Stories

As the global population grows and arable land declines, vertical farming provides the opportunity to grow any food anywhere, saving costs and resources, while maximizing nutrients and freshness. Reusable RPCs support sustainable agriculture by providing a secure, traceable and economical system to move food from the ‘skies’ to consumers.

Imagine eating…

Imagine eating freshly picked strawberries in December – in Germany. Or eating newly ripened avocados in the July winters of Australia. These ideas may sound impossible – or expensive and environmentally questionable. But these food possibilities – and much more – are possible with vertical farming.

With vertical farming, not only is there no longer "out-of-season" food; instead, every possible type of produce, grown without chemicals, can be delivered to consumers at the peak of freshness. This is the reality of vertical farming – the practice of growing food indoors or at under-utilized spaces like urban rooftops. The plants grow vertically, using a combination of energy-saving LED lights, minimal or no soil, recycled watering systems, and trays. In such an environment, studies have shown higher volumes of food produced per square meter, and prove that this produce can be more nutrient-dense than usual.

As the world population continues to climb to an estimated 9.15 billion. people by 2050, which the FAO estimates as 60% higher than the global population in 2009, environmental resources need to be saved, and supply chain efficiency needs to be maximized. For all of these reasons over the last decades, vertical farming has moved from a novelty to a valuable part of sustainable agriculture and the global food supply chain.

And in just the last five years, vertical farming has developed even further, moving beyond small crops such as herbs and lettuce. It is now firmly part of sustainable agriculture. "Today, with vertical farming, basically any crop can be grown, anywhere," explains Christine Zimmermann-Loessl, founder and chairperson of the international Association for Vertical Farming (AVF).

"Vertical farming is not here to ‘replace’ traditional farming by any means, but to complement the existing food producers with local, sustainable food options."

Christine Zimmermann-Loessl, Founder and chairperson of the international Association for Vertical Farming (AVF)

Fresh, nutritious – and sustainable

Headquartered in Munich, Germany, the Association for Vertical Farming (AVF) is an internationally active non-profit organization of individuals, companies, research institutions and universities focusing on leading and advancing the sustainable growth and development of the vertical farming movement. Its growth, explains Zimmermann-Loessl, could not be more important.

"Consumers need access to produce, no matter where they live or the time of the year. And more than ever, consumers are informed: They want to know how and where their food is grown," she explains. "Vertical farming is part of the answer." And, says Zimmermann-Loessl, vertical farming can provide additional food transparency: "Consumers know the product is local, so it is as fresh as can be. This gives consumers further choices – they can have fresh produce year-round, at price points that are economical."

Many vertical farmers, such as those in the AVF, move their produce to local farmer’s markets, restaurants and, increasingly, into local supermarkets. "Here in Germany, retail grocer Metro is one of the chains that is working with AVF member farmers," continues Zimmermann-Loessl. "And around the world – Japan, China, the Netherlands, and the US – there is tremendous growth in vertical farming. Of course, vertical farming is not here to ‘replace’ traditional farming by any means, but to complement the existing food producers with local, sustainable food options."

Moving sustainable agriculture to consumers

Of course, none of vertical farming’s benefits matter if food harvesting is not followed by a sustainable and efficient supply chain. For Zimmermann-Loessl, IFCO’s Reusable Plastic Containers (RPCs) are the ideal partner for farming:

"I particularly respect IFCO’s dedication to sustainability. RPCs are part of the circular economy: recyclable, reusable and efficient. The consumer can trust not only the produce grown on a vertical farm, but also the way this produce arrives, via RPCs.

They can receive their nutrient-dense food at the peak of freshness because of these containers. with longer shelf-life – up to four days longer, using IFCO RPCs – there is also less potential waste, a further reason to use this system," adds Zimmermann-Loessl.Not only are IFCO RPCs part of a recyclable pooling system, but they are reusable .

The uniform sizing means optimal transport, even locally, so none of the hard-earned freshness is lost. The process is also traceable and transparent. "Informed consumers can trust every moment of the food production process: from sowing in an environmentally-friendly setting through transporting through local produce in traceable containers. They know how sustainably their food was produced and how sustainably it arrived," adds Zimmermann-Loessl.

"I admire IFCO," she adds. "Their team is open-minded and dedicated toward sustainability."

As consumers around the world continue to try to grow and eat locally, IFCO can be a trusted partner in the process. IFCO RPCs are the perfect partner for fresh produce!

Learn how RPCs can lower environmental impact and increase shelf life:

Learn more

These articles will also be interesting for you

How our science-based wash processes guarantee food safety

learn more

IFCO validates processes through testing and hygiene

learn more