Photo: Olivia Siong, Channel NewsAsia)
Ok, not quite—the aluminum frame for the Sky Greens innovative planting system tops out at about nine meters, or about three stories. But considering that the farm yields some five to ten times more than conventional methods, the metaphor stands at least as tall as the pulley-equipped towers: according to their website, "the A-Go-Gro system uses patented low carbon hydraulic green technology to power the rotation of the tower at very low energy costs, while still allowing the plants to get more than adequate sunlight."
Channel NewsAsia reports that the Singapore-based company has been supplying local supermarket chain FairPrice Finest with locally-grown produce. The veggies have been a hit, selling out despite the nominal 10–20-cent markup—as fast as the farm can grow 'em, at a rate of roughly half a tonne daily. The goal is to expand from 120 towers to 300 by 2013 at a cost of S$27m (~$22m in USD), which is projected to quadruple the output to two tonnes per day.
Based in Lim Chu Kang, a largely rural area in the northwestern part of the island nation (it goes without saying that real estate is scarce), the 3.65 hectare (~400,000 sq. ft.) farm is some 40× the footprint of the original prototype, which DJ Engineering developed in collaboration with Agri-Food and Veterinary Assocation from 2009–2011. Last June, Business Times took notice of the "local private engineering company," noting that DJ Engineering "has tweaked the concept of vertical farming—which has taken off in Europe and Japan—for use in Singapore" (and no, it's not based on this French design).
Jack Ng, owner, founder, and managing director of DJ Engineering, said that the vertically-farmed vegetables would be competitively priced to land-farmed ones, since the device allows for higher productivity and low operational costs.
'Manpower and other operational costs of the system can be further lowered since many of the farm processes can be automated, with minimal human intervention,' said Mr Ng, adding that each tower costs only 14 cents a day to operate.
As with any greenhouse farming system, Sky Greens has the advantage of complete climate and irrigation control, which allows them to achieve consistent harvests year-round, providing a steady supply of veggies for grocers, restaurants and ultimately consumers. The company's business model also incorporates elements of social empowerment in the form of educational and rehabilitation programs.
This past week has driven home the point that our precious climate is only going to become more temperamental in the future, and as the civilization gravitates towards cities, so too do our foodways demand innovation... and, if you'll excuse the pun, room to grow.