Last month we reported on Local Garden, a new commercial vertical farm located in downtown Vancouver. Last week I was in Vancouver and had the opportunity to check out the vertical farm that is located on the top of a parking garage. The farm was extremely welcoming, allowing me to come inside, take pictures, and ask away about how it all works.
About the Farm:
Local Garden employs a conveyor-belt system of towers, each with 24 hydroponic racks that are filled with produce (mainly leafy greens). The towers move around a looped system in order to gain optimum access to sunlight for the crops during the day. Local Garden looks like a greenhouse but doesn’t use glass as its main facade material. Instead, the structure is covered in a special clear plastic that is designed to reduce the added weight that a structure like this could cause, and the material also directs UV light for the plants better than glass would.
At night, the crops are lit by grow lights that are staggered in height so that each tray receives relatively equal amounts of light. I arrived there at about 4pm and by the time I left it was dark outside. The whole structure had this bright green glow and eventually curtains came down to reduce the light pollution for neighbors in the area (something that the farm is not required to do but still does out of respect for its neighbors).
Remember, these systems are designed to grow food locally in dense spaces, which is why optimizing the production of food within the limited space available is key to the success of the concept the business depends upon. The reduction of resource inputs is also of paramount importance. Here are some of the questions I posed to Local Garden:
How do you irrigate the crops?
Water and nutrients are added to the irrigation system which is piped up above the towers. Then, the nutrient-filled water runs into the top tray of crop. A hole at the bottom of each tray allows the water to flow through each tray and then down to the next. Finally, the water left over leaves the bottom tray, is collected in drains, and recycled back into the system.
Where do you get your seedlings from?
Seedlings are brought in from a local farm just outside the city. Local Garden has plans to expand and build a second structure that would be a seedling station next to its current site.
What was your biggest cost during construction?
Strengthening the parking garage to manage the weight of the greenhouse was the biggest cost. This information is consistent with what most building-integrated agriculture projects suggest but I was still surprised. Local Garden didn’t use glass (heavy) and keeps its water tanks on another floor (also heavy). Clearly, weight and structural integrity will remain core challenges to BIA. New materials like the clear plastic employed by this project will become increasingly more important.
What do you expect your biggest overhead cost to be?
Energy costs are likely to be the biggest costs. The energy required to move the conveyor belts around and energy to power all of those grow lights. The farm has not been open long enough to tell what percentage of their monthly costs is energy but I plan to check in with them 6 months from now. It was interesting to me that energy was cited as the highest cost as energy in British Columbia is among the cheapest in North America. This is another testament to the challenge that energy is, and will continue to be for building-integrated agriculture.
How many farmers are there each day?
There are 4 farmers needed to manage the farm.
What are some of your biggest unexpected challenges?
Crops on the lower trays of the towers don’t do as well as those above. As the water filters down and through the 12 trays, the bottom ones always seem to have a slightly more difficult time. They still do well but are not as good as those above. This challenge was truly interesting to learn about. The Local Garden system is extremely water efficient but clearly there are trade-offs. Finding the ideal balance in controlled environment agriculture requires trial and error. For example, perhaps less trays on each tower or two separate conveyor systems would provide nutrients more evenly to all of the crops.
What yields do you expect to produce?
Local Garden expects to produce 400-500 pounds of fresh vegetables each month. They sell their produce to high end restaurants in the neighborhood and some supermarkets. I was happy to hear that they are able to compete with most of the produce on the market.
Vertical farming is still in its infancy and many challenges still need to be worked out. Density is essential to making the best use of land in urban spaces and producing the required yields to turn a profit. When density increases, so does the weight of the structure and the difficulty in providing balanced light for all of the crops. Energy, rent, and, structural materials will continue to be difficult challenges for dense urban farming.
People often forget that every farm is an experiment. Farmers attempt to produce yields under conditions that they think will increase yields. Controlled environment agriculture is the same except that the variables of light, water, nutrients, and, temperature can be tested more intricately. Local Garden has taken on a lot of risk with their vertical farm in Vancouver. I look forward to seeing how they succeed and how they adapt to the challenges ahead.
Carlos and his virgin friends park their truck about a mile from my apartment.
We all wanted that high school sweetheart
We wanted to be young and white in the fifties with meatloafs and sock hops
and lawns so perfect they looked like Clark Gable was kissing them
We wanted to be thirteen and alive and meet a girl that was thirteen and alive
and walk with her past the grandstands
to sit and hold hands with to sit and kiss with to sit and sit with like it was something that you’d have missed but that never was
We once wanted to be poor but not too poor
connecting this country like Kerouac and thumbs
pulling small town waitresses in the back seats and trailer park homes
where the two of you would find passion expanding
between the locking of your bones
until morning would come to find you out on the road
with your pockets empty except for your hands
but your hands they’d be overflowing with your soul
but that’s not what happened
We once went to bed like between the bed sheets were the valley where dinosaurs still breathed
and how we would capture these
triceratops and brontosauruses
but even he was opened up with the smoke that rose out of the homes and the corners that we once climbed through,
with the streets and the footballs which we once threw,
the school desks upon which we once drew,
the windows that sat open through we once flew,
before the outside world of parking spaces and dead friends came flooding on in
and we forgot what we wanted
and we became what we become: waitresses and bartenders, city employees and temp positions, we are junkies and one kiss poems and we cry the stars
as we write our scars onto dumpsters
and electric boxes
because the only thing that we can hear is our hearts
and the only ones listening are the streets
to the blood that breathes through the letters we leave
and we dream that we try to rise ourselves up out of these burning buildings
but instead get buried somewhere beneath
because I know my life is like some high school kid’s notebook
that kid that shuffles back and forth between school and home
stacking the letters and the pictures
too close for anyone outside of his own imagination to read
because it’s through the ink that his heart beats
that his heart breathes
And we all just wanted to just wanted to write these notes:
check if you like me check if you don’t
check if you’ll date me check if you won’t
because we all wanted the love songs to be true
and did love dinosaurs once
and we wanted the stars
to hold our hands to lick the teeth to fuck us
but they end up fucking us
So let your smile twist
like my heart dancing precariously on the edge of my finger tips
staining them as that same high school kid
licking his thoughts using his sharpie tip
I WAS HERE
I was here motherfucker
and ain’t none of y’all can write that in the spot that I just wrote it in
I am here motherfucker
and we all here motherfucker
and we all motherfuckers motherfucker
because every breath I give brings me a second closer
to the day that my mother may die
and every breath I take takes me a second further
from the moment she caught my father’s eye
because every word I carry is another stone to put into place
in the foundation that I’m building to erase the days
and help erase something I never saw:
what all of us wanted and what none of us got
what we all had and have and what we all forgot
that we all wanted to be something
that we all became something
and it might not be the shit what we once thought it’d be when we were kids
but something is still something
and like some cats say
something’s better then nothing
feet are smarter than an engine
and dreams are stronger than thighs
and questions are the only answers we need
to have to know that we’re still as alive as the time when I held the mind of a child
asking why is 2 + 3 always equal to 5?
Where do people go when they die?
What made the beauty of the moon? And the beauty of the sea?
Did that beauty make you did that beauty make me?
Will it make me something?
Will I be something
Am I something?
And the answer comes:
I already am
I always was
and I still have time to be.
Anis Mojgani, “Here Am I” (via deltaliteraryjournal)
Some of the best poetry I’ve read in a long time…
"What is REAL?" the Velveteen Rabbit asked the Skin Horse one day. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn’t how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Velveteen Rabbit .
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt."
"It doesn’t happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand. But once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always."
The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams (via strongerthanstrongfear)
There should be a government office that sends you copy of this book everytime that someone breaks up with you…