Growing underground: How deep farms can benefit beauty

By Julia Wray | Published: 23-Aug-2021

Are subterranean vertical farming solutions the future of growing raw materials for cosmetic ingredients?

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Humanity has been farming for approximately 12,000 years and the adoption of agriculture ushered in major societal change, sweeping away the traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle in favour of permanent settlements.

It is safe to say that today’s sprawling metropolises owe their existence to our ancestors’ decision to put down roots, literally and figuratively.

However farming has never been a case of just sowing and growing; unpredictable weather patterns, pests and diseases have historically ushered in devastating famines, and more modern issues including climate change, soil erosion and biodiversity loss are creating their own pressures.

When it comes to growing the raw materials that are used to make ingredients for the beauty and personal care industry, there is an added ethical pressure given the need to adequately feed a booming population.

With the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization forecasting that food production will have to increase 70% if the population reaches a predicted 9.1 billion by 2050, can we justify using land that could be used to grow food for any other purpose?

It is for these reasons that the concept of the vertical farm, specifically the subterranean ‘deep farm’, is capturing the imagination of the beauty world.

The genesis of vertical farms

At the end of the last century, a professor of Public and Environmental Health at Columbia University, called Dickson Despommier, challenged his students to calculate how much food they could grow on the rooftops of New York.

Unsatisfied with the meagre results, he further challenged them with a design to grow plants indoors on multiple layers, vertically, using artificial lighting, hydroponics (the technique of growing plants without soil) and aeroponics (whereby nutrients are misted in air chambers where plants are suspended).

They calculated that this hypothetical, 30-story ‘skyscraper’ farm could produce enough food for 50,000 people, 50 times more than the New York rooftops model.

While Despommier’s skyscraper farm has not (yet) been built, his ideas have inspired many entrepreneurs and eco-warriors who are evolving the possibilities of his concept in intriguing ways.

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