A Swedish social enterprise is building a 54m high vertical farm that can feed up to 300,000 people.
Plantagon isn’t like other companies. In fact, they say that business as usual is over. Founded by Hans Hassle and the Onondaga Nation Plantagon seeks to develop business that is good for society – one that is able to balance commercial success with idealistic principles. They plan to accomplish this through the development of technology for greenhouse cultivation in large urban areas, namely through the development of innovative vertical farming.
The Onondaga Nation is one of the original five constituent nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. Their traditional homeland is in and around Onondaga County, New York. They own 85% of Plantagon alongside SWECORP Citizenship Stockholm which owns the other 15%. To the Onondaga chiefs, the Plantagon greenhouses represent a socially responsible business, one that will provide fresh organic produce directly to urban consumers while reducing the environmental damage caused by diesel trucks that haul produce, says Oren Lyons, the Onondaga faithkeeper who chairs Plantagon’s board of directors.
Plantagon has already begun building the first greenhouse, a 54m high vertical farm in the city of Linköping, about 200km southwest of Stockholm, set to be complete in 2014. Much of the 200m Swedish Krona (£19m) pricetag has been covered by Plantagon and its backers, the Onondaga Nation, who were instrumental in founding the company with ethical business guru Hans Hassle in 2008.
Crops are grown on a spiral running through the heart of the building that slowly moves hundreds or even thousands of soil-filled planting boxes upward, as the plants grow. With the boxes resting on a pair of rails that corkscrew through the entire volume of the structure, a third rail carries a device that continuously cycles from the top of the spiral to the bottom, nudging each box a few centimetres upward. When they reach the top, the mature plants are pushed out onto the harvest platform, and new boxes of soil and seed are pulled in at the bottom
Plantagon is not without its critics. “It’s totally nonsustainable. I don’t know anyone with any real information about greenhouses who would support this,” said Louis Albright, a Cornell University professor of biological and environmental engineering who specializes in greenhouse engineering.
Despite its immense start up costs cities including Barcelona, Buffalo and Shanghai have already expressed interest in constructing Plantagon’s vertical farms. Significant international interest exists and it remains to see whether they can deliver on their urban agriculture claims.