Vancouver-based Alterrus Systems has begun building North America’s first VertiCrop urban farming system on the top level of a downtown Vancouver parking lot. Using hydroponic methods the system has the capacity to grow between 150,000 and 200,000 pounds of leafy greens, herbs and salad greens per year without pesticide or herbicide use.
“The VertiCrop technology represents a radical shift in sustainable food production,” said Christopher Ng, Alterrus CEO. “Current food-production methods are ineffective in dealing with the challenges of growing populations and decreasing amounts of farmland. VertiCrop’s high-density urban farming is an effective way to grow nutritious food using fewer land and water resources than traditional field-farming methods.”
One of the largest concerns associated withs city farming is soil contamination. In a hydroponic operation this ceases to be an issue because clean growing matter is imported from elsewhere. However, the one unknown remains atmospheric contamination and what impact airborne pollutants will have on vegetable production. Michael Brauer, a University of British Columbia professor of population and public health, said the main concern is toxins and pollution causing damage to the leaves.
According to Brauer, “Air-borne pollutants caused by braking and tire wear, as well as car exhaust, are a possibility but research has shown those kind of pollutants stay close to the source and Parkades are also well ventilated for air quality.”
“A lot of our food crops are grown in polluted areas, such as central California, which has some of the worst air quality anywhere,” adds Brauer.“ So when you think of it, downtown Vancouver and the air quality there is probably better than many agricultural regions of the world.”
Alterrus understands that vast areas of underutilized urban space, such as empty buildings and rooftops, can be used to grow fresh produce at or near to where it is to be consumed. Their vision is to have VertiCrop installations in every major city in North America within the next five years. Lets hope they do!