Wednesday, August 19, 2009

UK Zoo Tries Vertical Farming

VertiCrop images courtesy of Valcent Products.

A zoo in the United Kingdom has come up with a novel approach to locally sourcing some of its food for animals and dealing with the challenge of limited space: vertical farming.

The Paignton Zoo in South Devon joined forces with Valcent Products (Eu) Limited to employ its VertiCrop farming system to grow some of their own produce for the animals. They have just finished planting the first crop of lettuce.

Valcent Products (Eu) states that the Paignton VertiCrop project is capable of producing 11,000 heads of lettuce every four weeks or so. That works out to over 120,000 heads a year. That’s a lot of lettuce grown and saved. The idea behind this project is to plant the greens so that the zoo can harvest fresh vegetables daily for the animals that eat them.

What a treat for the animals – fresh produce directly from the vine. Eventually the farm will have vertical plots of red chard, mizuna, mixed leaves, various herbs, edible flowers, wheat grass and barley.

The grow area at the zoo sits in a specially-constructed polytunnel using computerized controls that automate water supply, irrigation and the environment around the VertiCrops. There’s also a conveyor belt for loading and unloading plant trays.

The system is intended to be low maintenance as well as low cost. Three zoo workers were trained to look after the farm. They are expected to do so on a rotating basis; but, Valcent Products says the site can be maintained by a single team member working two hours each day.

The farming system is expected to help the zoo cut its feed bill by about £100,000 (almost US $165,440) a year.

Valcent says other benefits of VertiCrop farming include:

• Crop yields that are as much as 20 times greater than those from traditional farming.
• A 5% to 10% reduction in the water and nutrients required for growth.
• The ability to produce crops year-round in a controlled environment that can be customized for climatic regions.
• Enables farming regardless of soil conditions in almost any location.

The VertiCrop system also is to serve as a learning lab for the zoo, its visitors -- and prospective Valcent customers. The company says more than 50 of them will be touring the site in the next three months.

More information on vertical farming concepts and designs that include farming highrises is available at

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