New Zealand’s First Vertical Farm is Up, Up and Away

New Zealand’s first large-scale vertical farm in Hamilton, Greengrower, is an exciting breakthrough for the country’s farming scene. 

Starting up just five years ago, chief executive Tom Schuyt’s vision for Greengrower was born during his time working in the produce industry, where he was exposed to the challenges facing the industry and consumers. 

Utilising his background in corporate finance advising, Schuyt was determined to find solutions to these issues, which led him and a team to research vertical farming and its adoption overseas in places like South Korea and the United States. He was particularly drawn to vertical farming’s advantages, in particular its resilience to unfavourable weather - a key cause of supply issues in the leafy greens market. 

The concept of vertical farming was first proposed in 1999 by Dickson Despommier, a professor of Public and Environmental Health at Columbia University. Since Despommier’s first design of a skyscraper farm, vertical farming technology has been backed by academic research conducted by scientists around the world and increasingly implemented by farming organisations to meet the global rising demand for food production. 

Tucked away in Ruakura, Hamilton, Greengrower grows lettuce and other leafy greens like spinach and bok choy in stacked layers of trays in “growing tunnels”. Its produce is grown from seed right through to harvest in a controlled environment that utilises LED lighting and hydroponic irrigation systems. This system of vertical farming means that Greengrower products are protected from unfavourable and unseasonal weather conditions as well as pests, allowing its products to be free from pesticide and sprays. The plants also grow at twice the rate of its outdoor farm equivalent, producing over 4000 bags per day for its North Island customers. 

Greengrower’s innovative farming method uses 95% less water and significantly less land than a conventional outdoor farm. Its products are also easily traceable as the team can trace back the produce back through the growing process to the day it was shipped out. 

In 2023, Greengrower is expected to have an official opening. Schuyt also has plans for the business to become completely sustainable by pivoting to zero waste.