With the COVID-19 pandemic regaining strength and teleworking more popular than ever, office buildings in several major North American cities are deserted. Due to physical distancing measures, the occupancy rate of office towers in downtown Montreal is currently 25%. Even more surprisingly, many real estate developers and builders continue to build commercial buildings downtown. But who will occupy these skyscrapers?
In addition to transforming them into homes, a great idea could allow unoccupied buildings to gain a new vocation: converting these office buildings into urban farms! On reading this proposal, are you surprised, even incredulous? Here are some arguments that will convince you of the relevance and feasibility of such a project.
Indoor cultivation more productive than greenhouse cultivation
Growing vegetables does not have to be done outdoors, in the ground, or in greenhouses. Large-scale urban agriculture can be practiced inside buildings without even having windows to let in the sun’s rays. Obviously, it is necessary to modify the interior envelope of buildings in order to waterproof it and make it unassailable by mold, and also to pay particular attention to ventilation. In addition, it is necessary to equip the grow rooms with LED lighting systems specially designed for growing plants.
However, although it is necessary to carry out important modifications inside the buildings in which one wishes to construct urban farms, the fact remains that their productivity is clearly higher than that of greenhouse crops. Inside a building, it is possible to stage crops and increase the cultivable area, which is not possible in a greenhouse without preventing the plants below from receiving the sun’s rays. It is estimated that an indoor urban farm can produce up to 8 times more food per square meter than a greenhouse. In addition, if it is well insulated, an existing building is significantly less expensive to heat than a double-walled glass greenhouse.
Recently opened indoor urban farms
North America’s largest indoor urban farm is located in Newark, New Jersey. AeroFarms is installed in a building that housed a former steelworks transformed into an urban farm. This farm uses 95% less water than a conventional farm and produces around 30 harvests of leafy vegetables per year for each square meter of crop.
Another urban farm project called Pasona Urban Farm began a few years ago in the city of Tokyo, Japan. It is in fact a 9-storey building belonging to the Pasona Group company in which edible plants are grown. The existing 50-year-old building envelope and superstructure were retained during the renovations.
This major renovation project includes a green facade, offices, an auditorium, cafeterias, a rooftop garden and above all, urban agricultural facilities integrated inside the building.
The crop space totals over 43,000 square feet with 200 species grown, including fruits, vegetables and rice, which are harvested, prepared and served in the building’s cafeterias. Pasona Urban Farm is the largest farm-to-table urban agriculture project ever in an office building in Japan.
On the other hand, several dozen young companies in interior urban agriculture have been founded in recent years. This is particularly the case of the young German company Infarm, a firm with a bright future, specializing in the conversion of disused buildings into urban farms.
Another example is the urban agriculture firm Plenty, based in California, which recently raised more than $ 200 million in funding, in part provided by Jeff Bezos, president of Amazon.