Vertical agriculture is set to become the agriculture of the future. At present, this practice, which makes it possible to grow crops in city centers with a very limited use of water and a reduced carbon footprint, is proliferating in different parts of the world, and the Polytechnic University of Cartagena (UPCT) has been studying it for some time under the direction of Professor Jesús Ochoa, of the Department of Plant Production.
Three years ago, Ochoa, at the head of a team of the Higher Technical School of Agricultural Engineering (Etsia) of the UPCT, undertook a project in order to find out the extent to which the roofs and terraces of Cartagena's buildings could be used for agriculture. The objective, the professor pointed out, was not to immediately convert the city into a gigantic garden, but to "promote the concept of urban greening and allow people to see that it can work." By obtaining a good part of the fruits and vegetables from the immediate environment, the carbon footprint generated by the transport of food from the countryside to the cities is eliminated, so the activity contributes to the fight against climate change.
There are already studies claiming "that the usable surface of roofs of a city can help meet between 60% and 70% of the population's demand for fruits and vegetables," said the researcher. However, what Ochoa and his team are trying to establish is the yield that can be achieved from this form of agriculture in the Mediterranean, where "there is still very little research" on it.
Damien Krack, director of the Optimus Garden start-up, one of the few initiatives for the development of vertical orchards in the Levant, says that the region has good conditions for the implementation of this type of agriculture. What Krack's company is proposing goes beyond rooftop orchards. We are talking about the so-called vertical agriculture, which entails turning the interior of buildings into plantations and taking advantage of even the walls to lay out facilities that allow the harvest of different products.
For now, Optimus Garden is setting up its vertical orchards (through a patented module infrastructure resembling Lego blocks) in locations such as offices, restaurants, nursing homes and schools. It is therefore an activity closer to decoration than to making a profit from the production. "The short-term goal is not to produce lettuce, in which we are not competitive, but to make it possible to cultivate in places where there is no room for an orchard and to bring nature to places without access to it, such as offices. That is urban greening."