Vertical Farming, Enough to Feed a Zoo

When you go to the zoo, it can be fascinating to see the zookeeper feed the zoo’s many inhabitants. However, I doubt many have ever considered just how expensive it is to feed all the zoo’s residents on a daily basis. One zoo located in the UK has considered their £200,000/year food bill and have opted for a new economically and environmentally friendly solution.

Vertical FarmValcent Products has partnered with the UK’s Paignton Zoo to install their Verticrop growing system. Verticrop is a vertical farming system that offers both economical and environmental incentives which will help to cut back the zoo’s overall food costs.

These growth systems consist of trays that are connected to overhead tracks that rotate on a closed loop conveyor. During the rotation, the trays pass through feeding stations that provide the necessary water and minerals. The rotations also allow for even airflow and equal exposure to light for all the plants.

These systems have the potential to save the zoo a good deal of money. With the zoo’s inhabitants consuming almost 800 carrots a day and almost £8,000 of fruit a month, the zoo benefits from the ability to grow food on the premises. For example, a Verticrop system can produce 20 times more food and use only 5-10% of water and nutrient requirements of traditional crops. Increased production and reduced consumption should save the zoo money especially when you add in transportation costs of traditional crops.

In the partnership with the Paignton Zoo, Valcent Products is providing the vertical farming system and the zoo is providing the land. However, neither is looking for this partnership to be a money making venture. Rather, this pilot program will help Valcent showcase its technology while Paignton Zoo reaps the benefits of a lower grocery bill.

These systems have a much wider application than just the zoo food industry. A recent Cleantech article pointed out that these systems are perfect for harsh climates like the Middle East where they don’t have the right soil or enough water to grow certain crops traditionally. However, with vertical farming technologies like Verticrop that use extremely small amounts of water and nutrients, increased farming could be brought to these regions. Chris Bradford, Managing Director of Valcent Products, verifies that nearly half of his customer inquiries are coming from people in these areas.

Valcent Products isn’t the only group looking into the vertical farming idea. The Vertical Farm Project is devoted to helping bring about skyscraper farms. The organizations founder, Dickson Despommier, is recognized as having first developed the concept of vertical farms.

The ability to grow crops locally and in the heart of major cities should appeal to almost everyone. Tthe ability of these farms to rely on very small amounts of nutrients and water and still produce more food per acre than traditional methods makes these farms cost affective. However, vertical farming is still in its infancy and more pilot programs like Valcent’s at the Paignton Zoo will be needed before we see overall industry adoption.

Jonathan Williams is a conservative blogger at and He is also the founder and current president of the nonprofit organization Need by Need, Inc. He can be reached at

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  • Posted on July 15, 2009. Listed in:

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