Affordable housing blocks built around vertical farms create jobs and local food sources

By Lucy Jones  February 23rd, 2021

Building thriving farming communities in the city.

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We need to change the way our houses are built. In Australia, the built environment accounts for 25 per cent of our total greenhouse gas emissions. The latest Circularity Gap Report also shows that housing has the largest global environmental footprint when you take into account both material use and emissions.

What if new housing projects could tackle these environmental challenges and address issues of social inequality, food security and unemployment at the same time? This is the ambitious goal of a string of innovative housing complexes planned for Maine, Chicago and Philadelphia.

The concept of these projects is fairly simple: build affordable housing blocks around vertical farms. These farms will provide employment opportunities for residents and produce healthy, locally grown food for the wider community.

"Bringing the farm back to the city centre can have a lot of benefits," Nona Yehia, CEO of Vertical Harvest, the company behind the projects, told Fast Company.

"I think what we've truly understood in the past year and a half — although we've been rooted in it all along — is that we have in this country converging economic, climate, and health crises that are rooted in people's access to healthy food, resilient, nourishing jobs and fair housing," she said. "And we saw this as an urban redevelopment tool that has the potential to address all three."

Vertical Harvest began to look at how vertical farming could be integrated with affordable housing in 2019, working with the Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA) to install a farm inside an existing housing development in Chicago.

Now, the company is working on new affordable housing developments that are designed around vertical farms. A project slated for development in early 2021 in Maine will feature 50 units of housing built around a four storey greenhouse. This project will grow around one million pounds (453,592 kilograms) of food per year and create 50 jobs.

"Part of this is providing healthy, nutritious food but also jobs at liveable wages. We're positioning all of our firms to address the new minimum wage level of $15 an hour with a path towards career development," Yehia said.

Produce grown on the farms will be available for residents and locals to purchase on-site. It will also be distributed to nearby supermarkets, restaurants and hospitals. Vertical Harvest will reserve 10-15 per cent of each harvest for food pantries (hunger relief charities) and other community organisations.

Vertical farms can produce 20 times more food than field farming with the same ecological impact. Purchasing locally grown food also reduces the emissions associated with food miles (the distance your food has to travel to reach the supermarket).

"By creating a large-scale farm in a food desert we are creating a large source of healthy, locally grown food 365 days a year," Yehia said.

Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.

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Lucy Jones

Lucy started her career working as a writer and editor in print and digital publishing. She went on to create content for Australia's leading sustainable fashion platform while completing her Master of Cultural Studies. Lucy spends her downtime at the beach, crocheting and hanging out with her cat Larry. She believes words can change the world and is stoked to help Planet Ark spread the message of positive environmental change.

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