Growing Vegetables Inside Skyscrapers

When you walk into a grocery store, the first thing you see is a pile of fresh vegetables. With lettuce and tomatoes stacked high, it’s easy to believe that there will always be enough food to go around.


However, the world’s population is growing so fast that scientists worry that agriculture won’t be able to keep up. We already use more than half the Earth’s land area to produce food. But by 2050, there will be two billion more people to feed than there are today. Unless we change the way we farm, the planet simply won’t have enough land to grow all the food we need.


So how can we grow more food without plowing larger fields? One solution is vertical farming – growing vegetables indoors in three dimensions instead of two.


A vertical farm looks more like a high-tech laboratory than a traditional farm. Plants are grown inside and stacked on shelves from floor to ceiling. Light is provided by electric lamps rather than the Sun. Water is pumped through the soil using a series of tubes. Variables like temperature, humidity, the number of hours of light each day, and even the nutrients present in the soil are all tightly controlled.


Under these conditions, it’s possible to grow crops much more efficiently than in an outdoor field. Today’s vertical farms can produce eight pounds of lettuce for every one pound that a traditional farm can produce in the same space. In the future, indoor farms could even be built in tall buildings like skyscrapers. Scientists estimate that vertical farms could potentially grow 500 times as much produce as traditional fields using the same amount of land.


There are other benefits to vertical farming, too. They recycle any water that drips through the soil, so they use 95% less water than traditional farms. Since there are no bugs indoors, vertical farms don’t require the pesticides relied on by outdoor farms.


Another advantage is that vertical farms can be built anywhere—even in the middle of cities. That means food can be grown close to where most people live rather than shipped from thousands of miles away.

vertical farming
Vertical farming

“Skyscrapers filled with vegetables could become a normal part of city skylines, and traditional fields could focus on the crops that indoor farms can’t produce.

Right now, vertical farming is still in the early stages of development. Growers have figured out how to produce lettuce, kale, tomatoes, and basil indoors, but they are still experimenting with how to grow squash and peppers. Vertical farms are also very expensive to build. As a result, vegetables grown by vertical farms can cost 10 times more than those grown by traditional farms.

vertical farming
Vertical farming

Despite these challenges, vertical farming has the potential to change the way the world grows produce. Skyscrapers filled with vegetables could become a normal part of city skylines, and traditional fields could focus on the crops that indoor farms can’t produce. Most importantly, this style of farming could allow us to feed more people without using up more of the Earth’s land for agriculture.


Agriculture – The practice of growing fruits, vegetables, and animals for food.


Pesticides – Chemicals sprayed on crops to kill insects and weeds.


Vertical farming – A style of farming that involves growing vegetables indoors on vertically stacked shelves.


  • Michael Graw, Ph.D.
    Michael Graw is a freelance journalist and photographer based in Bellingham, Washington. He holds a PhD in oceanography from Oregon State University. Michael is excited about making scientific research easier to understand and sharing the stories behind the science. When not writing, you can find him climbing, skiing, and trail running. Writing for Smore gives Michael an opportunity to share the most exciting new developments in science today with tomorrow's scientists.

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