In the future, how will salad be cultivated in a city without large areas of land being available? The various innovative solutions to meet the growing demand for food and fight against waste also includes the vertical farm, a greenhouse almost 5 meters high to test version 3.0 of the agriculture of the future with zero pesticides, zero food-miles, and zero soil consumption. Carried out by the Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA), Italy’s first vertical farm was inaugurated on Friday, 10 July, at Expo. Plants (lettuce and basil) are grown on several layers in pressed peat cubes immersed in water continuously recycled with nutrient solutions (hydroponics). The structure is lighted using highly efficient LEDs that reproduce the photosynthesis cycle. ENEA states that production, “compared to traditional crops, is almost double, with salad greens, for example, increasing from 6 to 14 harvest cycles/year for each level, with a 95% savings of water (just 2 liters/kg of lettuce as compared to 40-45 liters/kg in a “traditional” field).” The Vertical Farm, Agency points out, “is a symbol of the future of agricultural technologies, on which the agency’s nine existing centers in Italy are working. Products, services, and processes designed for companies in the sector have been collected in an illustrated volume on technological innovation – a sort of online “catalog” at www.ENEA.it, which contains over 500 entries on various sectors.” A vertical farm does not produce any waste as all the products used in growing the plants are continuously recycled within the farm. There are not even any irritating noises, except for the slight hum of the fully recycled air conditioning inside.
The agricultural innovations include biological insecticides, sensors to detect food product adulteration, processes to recover useful substances from wastewater, food traceability technologies, the development of precision agriculture, also with drones and satellites, for less water-intensive cultivation using innovative climate models. At the Expo launch of Italy’s first vertical farm, ENEA also introduced a campaign against food waste whose first initiatives include an agreement with Caritas Ambrosiana and Coop Italia for the use of the vertical farm products in the new Milanese refectory and the launch of the “Smart Fork” project to raise awareness among primary school children on the link between food, the environment and energy. “These initiatives want to be the symbol of ENEA’s ability to tackle complex problems comprehensively, working on excellence by making available to small and medium-sized enterprises advanced solutions, products, and services for a sustainable, more competitive agriculture,” explained ENEA Commissioner Federico Testa.