Vertical Farm Produce: More than just food
In the last article, we discussed briefly the main types of technology that are used for plant (and Animal) production in vertical farms – Hydroponics, Aeroponics, and Aquaponics. Now the vertical farms growing the products are most likely going to be commercial in nature and as is the case with so many a business, they need to make a profit. While a vertical farm can grow a vast range of plants, they will go for the plants which are the most valuable or the plants they can grow the fastest. High-value plants tend to be herbs, while fast turn plants include Lettuce, Rocket, Kale, Spinach, Basil, Coriander, Silverbeet, Oregano, and Chives. However, the beautiful thing about all that a vertical farm can be, and what a well-designed vertical farm should be, is a multi-produce building, and that produce isn’t limited to just food.
A by-product is defined as a secondary product derived from a manufacturing process or chemical reaction. If we said that a vertical farm’s primary product was the plants it grew, then anything else that we can grow as part of that process is a by-product. We can also consider any leftovers, or products made from the leftovers as by-products too. So what by-products can a vertical farm have from its plant production?
In the last article, Vertical Farming Technologies, I discussed how using an Aquaponics system provides the farm with secondary products – the fish or Crustaceans that provide the system with ammonia-rich waste. Another use for fish besides food for people is that the leftover waste from processing the fish for consumption, can itself be turned into fish meal – which can be used as a food source for the fish currently being grown, or it can be sold as livestock feed.
In these early days of vertical farming, not all plants groups are considered viable, like fruiting plants and tubers. One of the problems with these crop types is water consumption, as fruits and root vegetables use more water compared to leafy plants, like those mentioned earlier. Another issue for some plants is pollination. However, much like Fish form a symbiotic production relationship with plants in an Aquaponic system, bees could serve a similar relationship in pollinating flowering plants, and in turn, producing products of their own. Not only do Bees produce several usable products, but those products are also multi-purpose and include:
- Honey, which is a food, a food additive, used medicinally and is used in cosmetics.
- Propolis has bactericidal properties, thus providing uses as a disinfectant and a deodorizer. It can also be used as a relaxant, helping people to sleep and soothing nerves.
- Royal Jelly, which also has bactericidal properties, and is used medicinally and cosmetically.
- Pollen, also used medicinally and cosmetically.
- Beeswax, which comes in two variants; White wax, also known as Cera Flava, is used in medicine and cosmetics, and yellow was, also known as Cera Alba, is used in textiles and leather production and in perfume.
- Bee venom is used medicinally.
- Bee larvae could be used as a food source for people.
While it will vary from plant to plant, a lot of the plants that could be grown in a vertical farm with have parts that are not intended for human consumption. Rather than being allowed to go to waste, these plant by-products can also be put to use.
- Plants fibers are one of the main by-products, in fact, there are actually three types of plants fiber; Seed fibers collected from seeds or seed cases, Bast fibers collected from plant stems and Hard fibers collected from leaves or plant shells (like Coconut).
- Plant oils – many plant species can have oil extracted from them. These can be in the form of essential oils, like those extracted from Lavender, or cooking oils, like those extracted from Olive.
- Insect Feed – A lot of insects eats plants, usually the leaves. Discarded leaves from the processing the plants for sale or non-consumption leaves from other edible plants could be turned into insect feed for all the bugs grown in the farm (Stay tuned for more than food part 2 to learn about insect products).
- Compost, of course, can also be made from discarded plants matter. Any compost produced on site can serve the production of more crops or be sold externally.
Verticals farms don’t have to solely grow plants intended as food, they could supplement their produced goods with medicinal plants, or could even be solely dedicated to medicinal plant production. Plant-derived drugs include Aspirin, Digoxin, Quinine, and Opium. In recent years, more and more evidence has also surfaced regarding the medical benefits of cannabis oils – if tested and proven then legalized for medicinal usage, Cannabis could become a high-value vertical farm crop as well.
In Part 2 I will be looking at farming Algae, the production of biofuels and bioliquid fertilizers, and energy production. Be the first to read Part 2 by subscribing to the blog.
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