Italy was one of the first European countries to launch vertical farming production in the market. Thanks to a 9000-square-meter facility on the outskirts of Milan, Planet Farms represents a relevant commercial business in the market. Founded in 2018, the company has produced since May 2021 between 40,000 and 60,000 packs of salad and herbs per day. The vegetables are sold to Lombardy’s retailers at prices comparable to organic products. Also on their agenda is the construction of five more plants in different European countries, resulting in a total investment on production facilities of another 30 million euro.
Even in large-scale retail, vertical farming can have a significant impact. Agricola moderna distributes its products through the Carrefour and Cortilia channels. The soil consist of organic substrates designed specifically for each plant variety and air is filtered to ensure a protected environment. The company produces 100 kg/day of salad but is planning to build a fifteen times larger, fully automated plant with a goal of replicating it abroad.
Although much smaller in size, Trentino also has its own Vertical Farming plant. In an innovative aeroponic vegetable garden made of lights and inclined tanks, plants are suspended in the air and absorb water and nutrients through nebulization. This is the result of the progetto V-Frm, part of the “Be Factory” premises of the Trentino Sviluppo technology hub in Rovereto. The system allows plant roots to stay clean so that active ingredient can be extracted when the plant is still alive. This permits the extraction of ingredients for the preparation of cosmetic and medicinal products.
The project also plans to “bio-strengthen” food products, which means to integrate plant nutrients with greater amounts of minerals such as iron, which is an essential element in the diet of anemic people. This would allow growing innovative farm products, like a strawberry or salad variety particularly rich in iron, and preventing certain metals, like iron and nickel, to end in foodstuff for people that are intolerant or allergic to them.
The system is based on a nebulizer that sprays water on the suspended roots every thirty seconds and that gives them time to get dry, in order to prevent rotting. Besides water, plants are supplied with fourteen base minerals so that plant fibers will be in the diet 365 days a year.
Trentino also saw the birth of the first startup for the development of hydroponic vertical vegetable gardens (VeVe- vegetali in verticale). In this farming method, water and nutrients are sprayed on suspended plant roots thus using limited amounts of water and energy. The startup’s mission is “a garden in every home” to ensure fresh and local food.
Vertical farming is a winning paradigm shift because it brings multiple benefits: the principle is simple but effective and allows for sustainable and future-proof urban systems.