In 234-square-meters of high tech cells, researchers are growing multi-level racks of leafy vegetables, herbs and strawberries in order to perfect the light recipes that encourage faster growth, advantageous plant shapes and greater yields. Global City Farming Director Udo van Slouten believes Philips’ systems are the best way to address pressing global issues such as the lack of arable land, cost and waste involved in transporting food, and water-hungry mainstream farming methods.
While serving up snacks made from mustard leaves grown at the university, Scientists Jasper den Besten and Roel Jansen introduced the research behind LED horticulture lighting and explained how different colours influence plant behaviour. The team is able to change the shape, size, productivity and even essential oil content of many leafy greens and herbs. Due to the ability to stack up many layers of plants, each with its own cool LED lighting system, each square metre of space can produce phenomenal quantities of food. One partner churns out 900 pots of basil per year from one square metre of floor space. Because the cells are sealed and managed under strict hygiene protocol, they can eliminate the need for pesticides and chlorine washing. In Japan, supermarkets already advertise the fact their salad is grown under hygienic LED lit, soil free conditions.
Nicola Kimm, who heads Philips’ sustainability department, highlighted the ability of cells to save and recycle water. She told us a typical greenhouse production facility in Spain would use 60 litres of water per kilo of tomatoes, in the Netherlands a similar facility would use 30 litres, but with the latest technology it’s possible to reduce that to 5 litres. At Wim Peter’s 60 acre farm, endless rows of plum and ‘Tasty Tom’ tomatoes demonstrate how LEDs in otherwise naturally lit greenhouses allow increased production and profits during the winter months. In contrast to the sterile lab feel of the university cells, there were reassuring signs of insect life. Here the tomato growing process relies on bee pollination, and under each plant was a box evidencing the six-legged friends brought in especially to do the job.
Many parts of the process are being developed with a focus on sustainability. For example, Philips uses Rockwool as a growing substrate; after the material is used, the supplier recycles it as building insulation that provides yet another environmental service.
City residents are ever hungry for more locally-produced, healthy, affordable and sustainable food, so it will be interesting to see how local growers and communities and larger companies benefit from the research at GrowWise in Eindhoven. Certainly for those countries that can afford specialized facilities and vast quantities of LEDS, the waste reduction and increased efficiency will be advantageous. Could we see supermarkets growing salad in their storerooms or restaurants grinding up basil for pesto from their basements? Inhabitat will, as ever, be keeping a watchful eye out.