Inside the Vertical Farm

Your guide to the automated farming technologies, lab-grown meat, glowing bacteria, and sewage-to-electricity converters that will help vertical farming take off


Vertical-axis wind turbines are potentially 50 percent more efficient in low wind conditions than conventional turbines.


Farmers load harvested plants onto a central elevator to be sold at the grocery store below.


Ceiling-mounted systems monitor and control humidity, temperature, and nutrient distribution.


Robotic arms equipped with mechanical noses “sniff” plants and harvest them based on the presence of specific alcohols, a more precise judge of ripeness than color.

Optimal Crops

Plants don’t have millions of years to adapt to indoor hydroponic growth cycles, so botanists must select and breed the strains that perform best. Other scientists will blend specialized fertilizers for the plants so that they’ll contain micronutrients essential to the human diet, like selenium and zinc.


Even a few insects or pathogens could decimate the enclosed crops, so farmers entering the building must don containment suits and pass through airlocks. Scientists will coat plants with genetically modified bacteria that glow in the presence of a threatening disease or pest, alerting farmers to an outbreak.


Raising cattle is inefficient—only 3 percent of the energy used to raise a cow ends up as protein on your plate. Instead, scientists will cultivate slabs of meat in the lab from chicken, pig or cow stem cells raised on a diet of water, glucose and natural proteins. To approximate the texture of meat, they will “exercise” the muscle with electrical pulses. The fatty texture of a porterhouse is too complex to replicate, but sausage and chicken nuggets should be routine in a decade.


LED bulbs save energy and can be tuned to the specific wavelengths favored by each species (only red for lettuce, for example).


Chickens require little space and yield one pound of meat per two pounds of feed—very efficient by farming standards.


The vertical farm converts 100 tons of sewage into 19 megawatts of electricity.


Neighbors purchase vertical-farm goods in the tower’s ground-floor grocery store, and electric trucks deliver food to local markets.