Empty Office Buildings Are Being Turned Into Vertical Farms
In the first quarter of 2023, about 16.1 percent of office space across the country was vacant. In some of the major U.S. markets, vacancies reached up to 30 percent. Projections by Cushman Wakefield suggest that more than 300 million square feet of U.S. office space could be obsolete by 2030.
Although modifying an existing building is less expensive than rebuilding, turning offices into residential space can be costly, as most office spaces are laid out differently from residential buildings. But there are other options for these empty offices—such as farms.
Repurposing empty office buildings into vertical farms could be an innovative way to address several challenges, including urban food production, waste recycling, and underutilized real estate, and it could bring numerous potential benefits. In a recent Urban Farm article, it claims vertical farming can produce as much as traditional farming while using less water and less energy—if executed correctly.
However, it also presents unique challenges. Let’s explore both:
Food Production in Urban Areas: Vertical farming could provide locally-sourced fresh produce for densely populated areas, reducing food miles and offering a more sustainable option compared to traditional farming.
Reuse of Space: As remote work trends increase and certain office spaces become less utilized, vertical farming could be a way to give these spaces new life and purpose. This would help to avoid unnecessary construction of new buildings, conserving resources.
Controlled Environment: Indoor vertical farming allows for year-round growth irrespective of outdoor weather conditions. The indoor environment is easier to control, and with hydroponic or aeroponic systems, resource use can be highly efficient.
Cost: Retrofitting office buildings for farming can be expensive. It requires substantial investment in infrastructure such as lighting, climate control systems, and hydroponic or aeroponic setups.
Energy Use: Indoor farming relies heavily on artificial lighting and climate control, which can lead to high energy consumption. Using renewable energy sources or designing energy-efficient systems is critical for sustainability.
Building Structure: Not all office buildings will be suitable for vertical farming. The weight of the farming equipment and water usage might pose structural issues. The available light (natural or artificial) and the building’s ventilation system are also important factors to consider.
Zoning and Regulation Issues: Legal and zoning obstacles may present challenges in many cities. Changing the use of a building from commercial office space to farming may not be permitted under local laws, or it may require specific permits and inspections.
Despite the challenges, with advancements in technology and careful planning, the concept of transforming office spaces into vertical farms could prove to be a promising solution to sustainable urban farming.
A few companies are already operating indoors – Area 2 Farms out of Virginia has a location in Washington, D.C. on an empty floor of a former paper company and warehouse building where they’re growing greens, herbs and root vegetables.
In Calgary, Alberta, Agriplay Ventures transformed part of underutilized office space in Calgary Tower Center into one of Canada’s largest indoor urban farms earlier this year.
The farm at Calgary Tower produces tomatoes, strawberries, cucumbers, greens and much more for the local community, with some crops offering 30 harvests a year. Although only one floor of the approximately 262,500-square-foot building is currently being utilized for food production, AgriPlay wants to expand to another two floors in the coming months and years. According to Modern Farmer, AgriPlay Farms is negotiating offers on more than one million square feet of office space in Calgary.
In time, AgriPlay hopes to become the technology provider that allows community stakeholders to market and grow in their own communities.
It’s an intriguing thought – and one that could help with issues on several fronts