Thursday, July 24, 2014

Vertical Farming Taking Root in Pennsylvania

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA
DALTON, Pa. - In a sprawling, formerly abandoned warehouse near Scranton, the proof is in the produce as a
vertical farming operation has reaped its first harvest.

Minnesota-based Green Spirit Farms is using the Scranton-area site to grow high-quality, pesticide-free, non-GMO fruits and vegetables. Green Spirit president Milan Kluko says vertical farming uses huge shelves, or palate racks, and can grow produce on multiple levels.

"It's nine feet across by four feet deep, so that's 36 square feet, and then at 36 square feet we can grow 1,016 heads of lettuce, or we can plant 1,016 basil plants," says Kluko. "We can plant up to 10,000 arugula plants, and we do it all in 21 to 30 days."

Kluko says the goal of Green Spirit Farms is to develop vertical farming using carbon neutral or renewable energy when practical, and also to use compostable and recycled packaging for their produce sold to retail customers.

For Kluko, the most compelling aspect of vertical farming involves water conservation. He cites overall water use in growing romaine lettuce in California and Arizona using traditional methods, as opposed to growing it vertically.

"In California, they use about seven-and-a-half gallons per one head," says Kluko. "In Arizona, they use about 25 gallons per head. We use 0.33 gallons per head because we recycle about 40 to 50 percent of the nutrient-rich water we use right back into the system."

Kluko says municipalities can look to vertical farming as a way to "reoccupy" land previously used for industrial purposes or some commercial uses, also known as brownfields.

"That particular building outside of Scranton was vacant for 12 years," says Kluko. "We came in about this time last summer to start the demonstration farm, so we've been growing there since June 9th and were up and running, and our first harvest before the fourth of July."

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