This coming weekend sees the clocks jump an hour backwards, as days get shorter and temperatures dip. It’s also the time of year when we’ll see bags of winter veg leaves appear on supermarket shelves like kale, cavelo nero and spinach and root crops such as turnips. Thanks to the benefits of indoor farming, soon it won’t be unusual to see homegrown tomatoes and strawberries in shops during the time of year considered ‘unseasonal’ for this type of produce. Amid the ongoing disruption in the food supply chain and with rising fuel costs, isn’t it about time we fully committed to controlled environment agriculture (CEA) farming in the UK on a mass scale to enable year-round crops, as a more cost and energy-efficient solution?
Of the numerous advantages of indoor farming – including maximising crop yields, temperature and environment control, the ability to grow organically and free of pesticides, and decreased water use and transportation distance – perhaps the most impactful is the ability to grow all year round, even during the coldest and wettest months of winter. Under CEA conditions, it’s never too cold, too snowy or too windy for crops. Plus there are of course also benefits to the environment: in colder climates, greenhouses and vertical farms could reduce the net land carbon footprint when compared with open-field farming (combined land use per capita).
Here are a few examples of where indoor farming is flourishing in cold climates:
South Pole Food Growth Chamber (Antarctica)
In operation since 2004, this automated hydroponic growing facility – located in one of the coldest places on earth – supplies the staff of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station with fresh greens every day. During the winter months Antarctica becomes practically inaccessible, even by airplane, and almost totally devoid of sunlight. During this time average temperatures hover at -49.8 C/-57.6F. The South Pole Food Growth Chamber, also known as ‘The Greenhouse’, is about 22 square metres in size and utilises artificial lighting to grow a variety of vegetables and herbs.
Spread (Kyoto, Japan)
Japan’s largest vertical farm is a large-scale high tech indoor agriculture system. Although it gets too cold to farm outside during the winter months in Kyoto, Spread operates year around, delivering produce to supermarkets and restaurants within 24 hours of harvesting. Its Kameoka Plant was established in 2007, in Kameoka City, Kyoto, which was one of the largest vertical farms in the world at the time based on production volume of 21,000 heads of lettuce per day, or over 7.7 million heads of lettuce a year. Its domestic daily production volume is projected to exceed 18 tons by 2024.
Bright Greens Canada (Saanich, British Columbia)
Hailed as British Columbia’s first shipping container farm, the site has now doubled to two containers, located on the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) in Central Saanich. Saanich does not experience Canada’s harshest weather, but with average daily temperatures between 8-4 °C during the winter, Saanich becomes cold enough to benefit from year-round growing. Because the water used for growing is recycled, a container farm uses up to 90% less water than a typical 1.5 acre land farm. At 320 square feet, the farm can produce the equivalent of 1 1/2 acres of land using 90 per cent less water.