Developing Vertical Farming Models for Local Communities Collaborative Design Workshop

(Minneapolis, MN)

Over a two-day long Agritecture workshop held at the University of Minnesota, three teams were tasked to create a project design that used the latest technologies to grow local, organic produce at a competitive cost to the surrounding area, and in addition meet zoning and height restrictions of the specific project site. The 7.3 acre project site is located in Richfield, Minnesota next to a major highway and in close proximity of the MSP International Airport, the Mall of America, and several other large institutions. At the end of the workshop, all three teams presented their projects designs to a panel of judges, yet only one was declared the winner.

Team 3 “Loopgro” Wins Minneapolis Agritecture Design Workshop

Loopgro is the name of the winning design created by team 3. Several aspects of the design hold real promise to making the Richfield vertical greenhouse project a sustainable, profitable, and job-creating venture.  These aspects include the building layout, the net-carbon zero systems, the hydroponic setups, the business model, and the community outreach.

Minneapolis workshop team 3 by Henry Gordon-Smith

The most obvious difference between Loopgro’s building layout and the other projects’ was the fact that the majority of the growing takes place underground. Due to Minnesota’s unpredictable weather patterns and extreme temperatures, many successful local greenhouses take advantage of the stable, geothermal temperature of 55 degree Fahrenheit and this also inspired Loopgro’s decision to build downward rather than upward.  The main objective of building down was the energy savings associated with only having to adjust the ambient temperature from 55 degrees to 75 degrees rather than having to adjust the fluctuating seasonality temperatures back to 75 degrees.

Also, growing underground offers more control and prevention of disease and pest introduction. Lastly, located underground is a parking lot and truck access point, designed with the intention of minimizing vehicular congestion within the residential neighborhood.  Although the majority of the crops will reside below grounds, there will be a greenhouse on the Southern end of the project site to advantageously grow tomatoes for passersby’s to view. Along the Eastern edge of the site, four buildings housing the administration, a commercial kitchen, educational facilities, and property to be leased provide a structural sound buffer for the neighbors from the airport noise pollution. On the Northern end, a year round produce market will be held in an easily accessible public building.  The open area between the above ground buildings will be utilized by the public for community gardens.

In addition to growing underground as an energy saving strategy, a biofuel digester was incorporated into the design to provide additional free energy and help attain a net carbon zero goal.  Approximately 70 tons of organic waste can be collected each day from nearby institutions which would drive the biofuel digester and furthermore divert precious organic matter from being lost to landfills.  The anaerobic process of decomposing organic waste will generate 1 megawatt of electricity and 3.14 MBTU of heat to be utilized by Loopgro or sold.

The liquid produced by the digester can be nitrified, pasteurized and sent through the hydroponic systems to supply the plants with free nutrients and reduce Loopgro’s need to purchase all of the nutritional inputs. Lastly, solar panels located on the produce market building will provide an additional 500 kilowatts of electricity and secure the design to be net carbon zero.

Another efficiency of the Loopgro design is the hydroponic system.  The produce Loopgro is intending to grow are lettuce, basil, microgreens, kale, arugula, spinach, peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes. These can all be produce either by using NFT troughs and trays, or dutch buckets. The hydroponic system will be a closed, recirculating, irrigation system in order to minimize water and nutrient loss.  There will be the ability to section off areas and adjust nutrients based on the plant’s needs.  Any additional liquid produced by the digester can be sold to local farmers or used on the community garden plots. With these system designs, Loopgro can expect to grow 1.7 million pounds of fresh, organic produce a year.

The 1.7 million pounds of produce will supply roughly eighty-seven percent of the total income, while another nine percent comes from tipping fees and four percent from property rentals. This will give Loopgro a net income of 7.4 (not including interest expense) million dollars a year. The initial design cost will be approximately 70 million dollars which has the ability to pay for itself within 10 years.  Besides being profitable and sustainable, Loopgro’s mission is to promote jobs with livable wages and promote the production of local, organic produce. Loopgro aims to compete with out-of-state imported produce and provide the community with more accessible, locally grown, organic food.

Another main objective for Loopgro is community involvement.  Loopgro has two acres of open land for community organizations to utilize for their own fruit and vegetable production.  A commercial kitchen will be available for classes on food processing and preservation. Educational facilities will be established for local schools.  Loopgro will also work closely with local food shelves to make sure no food goes to waste. And the rental properties on the Loopgro site will be reserved for small businesses.  To ensure the success of the industry, Loopgro will be a transparent and willing partner of the local community.

This design event brought together an amazing array of people from all different backgrounds, and all the participants and ideas promoted a fantastically, creative space.  What a place to be where experts from all fields can sit down together and create such an ideal, beautiful, cooperative environment.

Explore the great ideas presented by the other participating teams:

Team 1 Rich Fields Final Presentation by Henry Gordon-Smith

Team 2 Cedar Steps Final by Henry Gordon-Smith