In the basement of a landmark 27-story tower in Stockholm’s central Kungsholmen district, Owe Pettersson is hoping to sow the seeds of an indoor urban farming revolution.
Pettersson is the chief executive of Plantagon, a new Stockholm-based urban farming venture set to kick off operations in the basement of an office block in the Swedish capital later this month.
“This will be one of the most advanced food factories located in a city that we have today,” says Pettersson, who has spent more than 25 years in the insurance and banking industries.
He is by no means the first enthusiast for indoor farming, which has become increasingly fashionable in recent years. Claims for the practice of growing food in basements or warehouses range from feeding people in desert environments to reversing the negative environmental effects of monoculture farming.
“Nature will repair itself if you give it a chance, and indoor farming gives it that chance,” says Dickson Despommier, author of The Vertical Farm and a vocal proponent for this novel approach to agriculture.
Plantagon’s early promises echo this nascent optimism. Pettersson calls the farm’s approach “agritechture”: the combination of agriculture, technology and architecture hoping to revolutionize how we live and eat.
The term may be new, but the concept isn’t. Indoor farming is made possible by agricultural technologies such as hydroponics (growing plants without soil) and aeroponics (in which plants are grown in air strung over containers). Food can be produced without direct sunlight or soil.
The Swedish startup says it will be more efficient than similar enterprises. While that’s impossible to prove at this stage, in theory the company’s main bases seem covered.
Plantagon plans to grow high-value foods ― mostly salads and herbs ― in a pumice-like substance rather than soil. Water for the plants is measured with scientific precision. It will also dehumidify the air and reuse any excess water to ensure zero waste.
In conventional agriculture, the amount of water required to produce a kilo of food can vary from about 130 liters (34 gallons) for lettuce, to 3,400 liters (900 gallons) for rice. In contrast, Plantagon says it will only need to use one liter per kilo for its crops.
Energy is also a key issue for indoor urban farms, which have to create artificial sunlight. Although advances in the efficiency of LED lights have helped bring down energy consumption in recent years, plants use only about 1 percent of the artificial light produced. This leads to a colossal waste of energy, most of which disappears as heat.