Land for farming is diminishing rapidly in the United States, which is reflective of a worldwide trend. In China, more than 40 percent of the soil has degraded from overuse, erosion, and pollution. In India, nearly 30 percent of the country’s agricultural land is turning into desert and the rate of soil degradation is increasing.

Coupled with the fast-rising world population, the world’s food supply chain is fast approaching a critical crossroads. Technology, and the dramatic increase in vertical farms, may be a solution that will help stave off a food shortage crisis.

Living Greens Farm in Faribault, MN is using technology to raise crops. The company uses a patented Air Grown vertical system for growing produce that reduces the need for land, energy, water, and space.

“We wholeheartedly believe indoor/ vertical farming is the path forward for agriculture,” said Nate Klingler, Vice President of Business Development for Living Greens Farm. “Demand for food is growing, and demand for safe, delicious, and healthy food is growing at an even faster rate.”

The Farm

Living Greens grows mostly leafy greens such as romaine, butter lettuce, mixed greens, and basil. Its products are sold at grocery stores in the upper Midwest.

In the aeroponics system at Living Greens Farm, plant roots remain in the air 99.9 percent of the time. No soil is needed and the plants are spritzed with nutrientrich mist. According to the company, that opens up a lot of possibilities including the fact that frozen ground during winter is no longer an obstacle.

The crops thrive under the perfect balance of light, air, humidity, and nutrition. Furthermore, the greens are among the safest and healthiest offered to consumers. Its products require 95 percent less water and shipping, and 99 percent less land.

In aeroponics systems, seeds are planted in pieces of foam stuffed into pots, which are then exposed to light on one end and mist on the other. The stems remain rooted in the foam as the plants grow. Plants move along a patented traveling carriage system that provides plants with a consistent supply of nutrientrich water. Living Greens received a patent in 2016 for its irrigation system that developed over more than a decade of research and development.

“Living Greens Farm was a science and engineering operation for many years while we worked to make our proprietary aeroponic grow systems commercially viable,” Klingler said. “There were many challenges along the way. Many different versions of the systems were developed, tried, scrapped, or refined. That went on for years.”

The Traverse System

Living Greens Farm uses a traverse system with a 16-foot energy chain that provides plants with a consistent supply of nutrient-rich water. (Photo: igus)

The traverse system features a 16-foot energy chain manufactured by igus, a Germany-based manufacturer of motion plastics with North American operations in Providence, RI.

A water line is set into the energy chain to feed the plants. The system runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, delivering about 5,417 gallons per hour and 130,000 gallons per day. Living Greens has 74 traverse systems in place at its Minnesota location and 12 more at a sister farm. Klingler said the company is also working to license its technology to people interested in starting their own farms in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

The H4-32 energy chain is frequently used in applications that require high speeds and/or accelerations, when quiet operation is required, and for long travels. It is also used in applications where high fill weights are needed, such as with Living Greens. “It’s important that our plants have a consistent supply of water and this carriage system is the delivery method for supplying that water,” Klingler said.

Klingler said developing the traverse system was one of the challenges in the company’s development. “We were working in a very small space,” he said. “The carriage needs to travel a relatively long distance with a heavy water line.” He said the key feature in the energy chain was the ability to incorporate water hose protection. “Water is very important to our operation, so protecting that source during delivery was essential,” Klingler said.

The dry-running energy chains require little maintenance and resist dirt and debris. Engineered composite plastic materials are designed with base materials, fibrous reinforcements, and solid lubricants that eliminate the need for external lubrication.

Automation is a critical part of vertical farming. Very few products, however, have the capability to withstand the effects of dirt, water, and chemicals on equipment. “The majority of vertical farming systems have some kind of automation built into them so they can operate 24/7,” said Charles Jaskolka of igus. “Plants need constant attention and these facilities provide consistent environmental conditions that optimize growing conditions. Whether it is an automated water or lighting system, they need products that keep cables and hoses tidy to prevent early failure.”

Future Growth

A water line set into the energy chain feeds the plants, delivering about 5,417 gallons of water per hour. The company has 86 traverse systems in operation to help grow its products. (Photo: igus)

Vertical farming is a rapidly growing industry across the globe. Japan has more than 150 vertical farms and Business Wire reported that values in vertical farming are expected to reach $3 billion in the United States by 2024, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 24 percent.

Besides the reduced acreage of available land for farming, the industry’s growth also ties into the high population of urban areas. Before Living Greens, residents in the Midwest had to rely on fresh greens being shipped thousands of miles that could require up to two weeks of travel time.

With its technology in place and interest surging, Living Greens Farm is poised to capitalize on the opportunity at hand. They are paving the way for a new generation and ideas in farming. “With dwindling amounts of land that can be used for farming, as well as the decreasing amount of clean water available for farming, it just makes sense,” Klingler said. “Living Greens Farm plans to play a big part in this path forward and is excited to see what the future holds.”

This article was written by Dan Thompson, Product Manager of Energy Chains for igus North America, Providence, RI. For more information, visit here .