How I Stumbled Across Vertical Farming

Where did my interest in vertical farming start?

Three years ago, I was in my second last year of high school. I had no idea what to do after graduating. My performance in school was pretty much the same across all subjects, which made the decision even trickier. Everything interested me a little, yet nothing captivated my interest – architecture, English, engineering, medicine… it could have been anything.

One day during the summer holidays, I was casually browsing the internet. By chance, I came across ELIOOO. ELIOOO is a cheerful manual written by the designer Antonio Scarponi. It shows you how to build hydroponics systems at home using simple IKEA parts. This seemed like a cool little project so I decided to go ahead and try it out.

After building an ELIOOO system, my parents were kind enough to let me use part of the attic to experiment with indoor growing. Setting this up involved quite a few trips to all sorts of places – from garden centres, to ‘shadier’ companies in the Netherlands. We ended up getting a couple of grow tents, some self-watering pots, and some grow lights – somewhat necessary when you’re in a room without windows.

A few weeks later, all sorts of produce was coming out of the attic: tomatoes, cucumbers, and chilli peppers, to name a few. This project became an obsession. I would constantly go upstairs and take care of the system – or do nothing and just admire the plants. It was a beautiful time.

Some people at school noticed their food get a bit spicier, too.
Some people at school noticed their food get a bit spicier, too.

In the meantime, tomatoes and cucumbers weren’t the only things that had grown. Getting experience with hydroponics taught me about the need to conserve water. It was also surprising how much flavour and crunch the produce had compared to what I was used to. Soon problems like pesticide resistance, population growth, and food deserts started captivating my attention. These issues came together under agriculture – and in an uncanny way, a lot of vertical farmers on the internet were saying the same.

Gradually it felt like this would be the right thing to get into after school. Yet it didn’t start with my career choice in mind. I just did it because there was something fascinating about growing plants indoors and vertically stacked. Sustainability had always interested me as a kid, but I knew nothing about agriculture. This was all new to me, and I got lost in it. And once I had, biosystems engineering became the obvious choice.

Half a year into starting university, I read an article by Ludvig Sunström on creating passion. It was a thought-provoking read. The main idea is that ‘passion’ rarely hits you in a eureka-like moment. You can’t just wait until an idea pops up in your head, and expect it to feel 100% right. That rarely happens – it certainly didn’t to me.

Instead, Ludvig recommends the immersion strategy. As its name suggests, you immerse yourself in a field (or the attic, if you’re growing indoors). This could be through intensive reading, a personal project, or any other way. By investing time and gaining more knowledge, you become more interested. This resonated with me.

Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, that’s exactly what had happened with my hydroponics projects. In my case, this happened by chance, but you could do it consciously, too. Anyhow, you rarely hit diamonds by scratching the surface.

How did you become interested in vertical farming?

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