In most cities, where any available land tends to be quickly snatched up by developers, it can be hard for would-be urban farmers without backyards to find a place to plant crops. But if there aren't enough community garden plots to go around, one urban farming company thinks cities have another resource: walls.
Bright Agrotech, a Wyoming-based vertical farming company, designs lightweight hydroponic farm systems that can attach to any unused wall space along sidewalks or behind buildings.
"Vertical surfaces are really one of the most undervalued types of real estate in the world," says Nate Storey, CEO of Bright Agrotech. "Basically all you can use them for is advertising."
While living walls have been around for a while, they aren't usually used for growing food, and they're usually expensive. Bright Agrotech's system is still a little pricey—a small system starts at $569—but they're working to make it accessible to anyone who wants to grow food and bring the cost down further.
"What we're really focused on is decentralizing and democratizing agriculture," Storey says. "Getting produce from the grower to the consumer as quickly as possible, as efficiently and as locally as possible."
The company also designed the system to be simple enough for non-gardeners to master.
"Traditional living walls or green walls are typically pretty bulky, hard to set up, and hard to maintain," he says. "Our goal is to put together something that's really simple and really easy to use." Because the wall is self-watering and the design eliminates weeds, the company calculates that it takes less time to maintain than an ordinary garden. Every five or six weeks, you can harvest around 40 pounds of greens.
The same system can also be used indoors, but the company sees some advantages to plastering plants on the sides of buildings. "I think that agriculture is not just functional but beautiful," Storey says. "I really feel strongly that humanity we weren't designed to live in the concrete jungle. Living in these bleak cityscapes takes a toll on our psyche...being able to take ag to the sides of buildings, and change the landscape is going to be a powerful thing not just for food production, but for people."
Ultimately, he thinks that future cities could double as massive gardens. "I see a future where cities are green, and not grey," he says. "We're growing on the outsides of buildings, we're growing on the insides of buildings. We're growing anywhere we can grow."