Sustainability Standards for Vertical Farming

The Association for Vertical Farming (AVF) released a recent report detailing its efforts to create sustainability standards for urban and vertical farming. It is set to announce its work on the standards at a conference in Amsterdam this month. Vertical farming presents an attractive option for growing certain vegetables, tomatoes, and herbs on less ground with less water. I think of vertical farming like skyscrapers in a big city--save land by building up instead of out. Vertical farming can provide an intensive growing method in urban areas, offering higher yields and moving the food closer to the people who consume it. Vertical farming makes eating local possible in the middle of Chicago. 

The AVF worked with Columbia University students to create nine key principles that inform vertical farming sustainability: 

  1. Heath and Safety/Working Conditions
  2. Food Safety and Quality Assurance
  3. Pest Management and Pesticide Use
  4. Nutrient Management and Fertilizers
  5. Water Conservation and Management
  6. Community Relations
  7. Waste Management
  8. Energy and Climate
  9. Site and Facility Characteristics

The official AVF/Columbia report is available here. These standards could operate like LEED-certified energy efficient buildings or the United Egg Producer certification for cage-free growers. The publication of such standards would give consumers, restaurants, and markets a way to measure and compare the food they purchase. It would reward producers who are willing to comply with those standards. Based on the nine principles outlined above, growers would need to ensure their agreements with suppliers, shippers, and sellers maintained compliance with the standards. For instance, if energy and climate are a category to consider, what sort of shipping methods must be used? What type of storage facilities would be approved under the quality assurance concept? These questions and more would have to be answered. Growers who want to eventually seek certification under the urban and vertical farming sustainability standards should be prepared to review their agreements with their partners in the food chain. Exciting times are ahead!