US (AZ): How one ASU lab is working to create food resiliency in the Southwest through vertical farming

Grappling with a longstanding drought, Arizona farmers currently use over 70% of Arizona’s water supply for irrigated agriculture. Drought and water cutbacks have forced some to reduce their planting in recent years. Facing an agricultural crisis, Zhihao Chen, an instructor at the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts and an owner of Homer Farms, a startup that works to convert organic waste into bioenergy and liquid fertilizer for vertical farms, decided to look for a solution.

He found it indoors — through vertical farming, to be exact. By employing a combination of artificial lighting, water mixed with nutrients, and stacks of trays holding leafy greens, vertical farming uses up to 90% less water than traditional farming and yields 10 times more crops in the same amount of space used to grow on traditional farms, according to ASU News.

In fall 2022, ASU’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts began offering a certificate program in indoor farming led by Chen and his colleague Yujin Park, an assistant professor at CISA.

Students in ASU’s Indoor Farming Lab learn about vertical farming and have opportunities to be recruited and trained with applicable knowledge the industry is looking for, Chen said. Some students who have completed the program have later been hired by Homer Farms.


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