Upon entering the grow room at Vaxa Farm, one has to do a double-take. The lights, the rows of stacked plants, no windows, and workers in clean suits make you feel like you are on an orbiting space station!
While the image of tilled fields, healthy crops, and farmhouse in the background conjures a romantic idea, the future of agriculture—in Iceland and the world—will likely be similar to Vaxa Farm. As global populations surge, the climate warms, scarcity of clean water, and agricultural lands are stressed for ever greater yields, farming will need to adapt.
While Iceland is well known for growing a variety of crops (even bananas!) in greenhouses powered by geothermal energy, Vaxa Farm is on a whole other level, quite literally. Vaxa is a vertical farm, which means cultivation occurs in an entirely controlled indoor environment. No sunlight shines on this salad! The greens are cultivated on stacking shelves with controlled spectrum LED lights and a perfectly timed watering and fertilizing schedule. The efficient use of space, energy, and resources is key to making the Vaxa Farm work.
The grow room is sealed to prevent any insects or contamination that may damage the greens. Water is used sparingly, and there is no need for pesticides. The facility is heated with geothermal energy, and the electricity is supplied by a mix of renewable hydro and geothermal. By controlling all aspects of the growing process, Vaxa Farms can produce an extraordinary 150 tons of salad greens in a 600 square meter building using minimal energy.
To compare, this is about ten times more productive than a traditional greenhouse and 100 times more than field-grown where external conditions such as seasons, pests, and weather are factors.
Vaxa Farms manages to do this in their facility about 20 minutes from downtown Reykjavík, where they supply restaurants and grocery stores with various greens. Minimizing the "last mile" distances and time reduce the carbon footprint of cold storage and transport. Because of the short time from soil to plate, Vaxa produces incredibly fresh salads that are nutritionally rich, tasty, and have exceptional texture. Since they control all aspects of growth and distribution, Vaxa delivers exceptionally consistent and premium lettuces. Restaurants and retail stores appreciate consistency. That way, they know what they are getting, and dramatically minimize spoilage and waste. While the learning curve is steep for vertical farming, companies like Vaxa make the most of a precious harvest in more ways than one.