The word “farm” might conjure up images of vast swaths of land covered by endless rows of crops. A vertical farm might conjure up images of scientists inside laboratories wearing starch-white lab coats, examining soil samples with microscopes. It’s time to remove those images from your mind and plant the seed of imagination: a vertical farm in your kitchen.
Grappling with a longstanding drought, Arizona farmers currently use over 70% of Arizona’s water supply for irrigated agriculture. Drought and water cutbacks have forced some to reduce their planting in recent years. Facing an agricultural crisis, Zhihao Chen, an instructor at the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts and an owner of Homer Farms, a startup that works to convert organic waste into bioenergy and liquid fertilizer for vertical farms, decided to look for a solution.
He found it indoors — through vertical farming, to be exact. By employing a combination of artificial lighting, water mixed with nutrients and stacks of trays holding leafy greens, vertical farming uses up to 90% less water than traditional farming and yields 10 times more crop in the same amount of space used to grow on traditional farms, according to ASU News.
In fall 2022, ASU’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts began offering a certificate program in indoor farming led by Chen and his colleague Yujin Park, an assistant professor at CISA.
Students in ASU’s Indoor Farming Lab learn about vertical farming and have opportunities to be recruited and trained with applicable knowledge the industry is looking for, Chen said. Some students who have completed the program have later been hired by Homer Farms.
Keetra Bippus is a reporter for State Press Magazine and a journalism student at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She's previously reported for AZ Big Media and the Downtown Devil.