Space, waste, energy, pesticides – these are some of the seeds planted in the mind of architect Francois van der Merwe when thinking about future food production.
The concern sprouted into vertical farming; a technique that makes it possible to have agriculture in cities in much smaller spaces.
Four years later, a model of the main hydroponic greenhouse in Pretoria was launched at Pick n Pay Constantia on Tuesday March 22.
“It’s a soil-less form of agriculture that only uses compost,” said Mr Van Der Merwe, chief executive officer of Clean Air Nurseries Agri Global (CAN-Agri).
“As the world’s population continues to grow, the demand for food increases, so we need to save energy and water while still producing food. We believe that vertical farming is the future of agriculture and can help to overcome these difficulties,” said Mr Van Der Merwe.
The 3 200m2 indoor growing area in Pretoria is similar to greenhouses but has metal reflectors and artificial lighting that augment natural sunlight. It has 6m high plant “pockets”, 13km long which have the capacity to grow 384 000 plants. They are constantly fed filtered, recycled water, allowing nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium to be directly fed into the roots of the plants and keeps circulating so that the chemicals do not get into the environment.
”No tractors, no diesel, no aircon, no de-humidifiers. The leafy plants, such as salad leaves with different lettuces and herbs and whole baby butter lettuce heads, can be harvested younger, fresher and are therefore more tasty,” said Mr Van Der Merwe. He adds that energy used to grow the food is solar.
CAN Agri’s Matthew Morgan of Kenilworth set up the model vertical farm in Constantia and will be growing seedlings locally in the near future. “This display is a model of what we are doing on a larger scale in Pretoria. It’s a great way of educating children, showing where their food comes from and future farming methods,” he said.
Mr Van Der Merwe believes that we will see less open field farming in the future. “Which is good as there will be less food waste. Vertical farming is sustainable, uses 95% less water, less fertiliser and no pesticides when compared to growing the same quantity of plants on a piece of land. It’s taken four years to get right, now we plan to roll out more models in stores and bring plants closer to the customer,” said Mr Van Der Merwe.