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City slicker crops are the crops of the future

Crop production in closed plant factories in urban environments is a sustainable and efficient way of growing food and medicinal plants for the world’s booming population. Who says that commercial cultivation of fruit and vegetables has to be a rural affair? Why not grow food smack in the middle of towns? If potatoes can be grown in subterranean tunnels, strawberries in skyscrapers and artichokes in abandoned factory buildings – all in the city – then there would be huge savings on transport expenses and time and the crops would be spared the vagaries of climate changes.

The scenario is not science fiction. Scientists from the Department of Horticulture at Aarhus University have already set things in motion in a new research project. They will investigate plant requirements when plants are grown in a completely closed system – the so-called Green Box system. The aim is to be at the forefront with knowledge about how Green Box systems can be optimized. Aarhus University is participating in a national consortium that is working on establishing a project in common with international partners in the area. World food production is threatened by climate change, which leads to extreme weather situations with torrential rain or prolonged droughts. At the same time, people are increasingly shifting to urban environments. This means longer food transportation time and increasing prices for agricultural land, explains senior scientist Lillie Andersen from the Department of Horticulture.

If we want to ensure a sustainable supply of healthy, plant-based food in the future, then radical changes in food production must take place

If we want to ensure a sustainable supply of healthy, plant-based food in the future, then radical changes in food production must take place, she points out.

The project will focus on establishing a prototype for a multi-level system for growing plants without using soil in a greenhouse environment. By using lettuce as a model they will study the plants’ requirements and response to factors such as light source, absence of daylight, re-circulated air, nutrients and Water. The scientists will use the acquired knowledge of plant response to influence the quality of the plants and products with the aim of optimising their content of nutrients and health-promoting substances.

The method will make it possible to produce food without using pesticides and with a minimum effect on the environment by using the latest technology. It can increase the accessibility of fresh and healthy food because production can take place year round 24/7 independent of the whims of nature, says Lillie Andersen.

For more information please contact: Senior scientist Lillie Andersen, Department of Horticulture, telephone: +45 8999 3385, E-mail: Lillie.Andersen@agrsci.dk

Source: DCA – Danish Centre For Food and Agriculture, Aarhus University
Photo credit: Connie Damgaard, DCA – Danish Centre for Food and Agriculture, Aarhus Universitet