The Benefits of Indoor Farms in Big Cities

Technology makes it possible to grow plants indoors

29 June 2016

My love of farming started when I was 8 years old. Growing up in a village in Jordan and watching my grandfather working on his farm made me appreciate the hard work that goes into raising crops. But, like most of those who moved to a big city, I became removed from the land and how food is grown.

That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to read “Indoor Farms Could Revolutionize Agriculture,” published in May in The Institute. As an engineer, it’s exciting to see how technologies, like LEDs, are changing farms for the better by moving them indoors and making it possible to grow fresh produce in urban communities. LEDs not only provide light for plants to grow inside, but their color spectrum, wavelength, and duration of illumination can be adjusted for each type of plant so the crops can grow even better than outdoors. Moreover, the plants can be harvested year-round.

GROWING THE FUTURE

One example that really impresses me is Philips’ City Farm. The lighting company is working with research institutions, universities, farmers, and others to develop its indoor farms, which are located in Japan and the Netherlands. Philips also has a program with NASA and the University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, in Tucson, to investigate farming methods for food that can be grown in space.

This, of course, is not my grandfather’s way of farming. I grew up in Kufr al-Ma, a village in the denuded eastern foothills of the Jordan Valley. It was one of the 200 cereal-growing villages in northwestern Jordan. You probably can imagine just how hard it was to plow the soil before planting. And it became even more difficult to grow crops, if not impossible, when there was not enough sunlight and rainwater. Indoor farming does not have such problems. Some indoor farms are set up in old warehouses where it is dark and there is not much fresh air.

On the contrary, my experience of farming as a kid was being in open fields, where I’d see hundreds of other villagers cultivating grain and sesame seeds on their land. Then trucks would be filled with the produce to be sold. That is how I imagined food to be grown and distributed. But what is happening now shows me there might be a more efficient way.

With a growing global population, and more people moving to urban areas, indoor farming means food can be more easily supplied, and grown locally. I expect the cost to go down, because there is no need for the food to be transported great distances. Fresh produce will become more accessible to those who can’t afford it now.

IEEE Senior Member Qusi Alqarqaz is an electrical engineer with more than 27 years of experience in the power industry. He writes about technology, works as a consultant, and mentors students.

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