“It is often said that vertical farming can’t be cost-effective, let alone profitable. But I think that when you look at the complete picture, with all the research and development that is going on, the picture changes completely,” says Wendy Yared with Evolve.Ag.
“Fifteen years ago I was already obsessed with vertical farming. It was my dream to start one, but nobody did it at that time. And look where we are now: so many companies working with vertical farming. The industry is developing in a way that we could never have dreamed of only one decade ago.”
Out of interest for vertical farming, food anthropologist Wendy started the website Evolve.Ag two years ago to spread the word about what was happening in food tech. One year ago, she started a podcast. “Already before COVID I was organizing online events, and now we have really learned what a great way this is to get people from all over the world into one global discussion.” Wendy’s goal is to educate people on innovative technologies that have the potential to shape culture and fundamentally change what, where and why people eat. “COVID brought to light so many issues around food that people weren’t previously aware of. So much food gets wasted and there is inequity of food distribution: I want to help amplify those in the food industry that are making positive changes.”
“People don’t realize how far their food has to travel. Think of bananas from South America, berries that are transported from Mexico to New York. There is no super clear packaging that informs the consumer of the origin of their food. Yet there are many great technologies that aim to counter the inefficiency of the food supply system, and I think people should be aware of that as well.”
As an anthropologist, Wendy is interested in the motives behind people’s choices. “There are many sustainable and conservation-forward ideas that people philosophize on when it comes to food production. Those ideas underlie how people are looking at farming, how farming is shaped, and what techniques are being accepted or not.”
Vertical farming perception
Sharing information helps people get a perspective on the future of food produce, Wendy finds. It also helps having a realistic image of the opportunities that exist already. “I used to think that vertical farming would save the world. After extensive research, I don’t believe this anymore, but I still think it is a great part of the solution. Especially in food deserts people that previously had no access to fresh produce, food accessibility can improve. From a food equity perspective, they are a great solution. Besides, there are so many educational implementations with small-scale vertical farms. It is a great way to build a community around a common interest, namely food.”
The critique that Wendy often hears is that it will never be efficient or sustainable due to the amount of energy consumed. “But it is a matter of scale. There are large farms that look at renewable sources like solar technologies to make it more sustainable. The solutions are out there and people are working on it. Eventually, these things will be profitable.”