After two years of operation, the Princeton Vertical Farming Project (PVFP), which introduced students to sustainable farming practices and provided fertile ground for research, has come to an end.
The PVFP was launched in April of 2017 by Paul Gauthier, who served as an associate research scholar in plant physiology and environmental plant metabolism in the Department of Geosciences beginning in 2012, in a windowless room in Moffett Laboratory. With support from the Office of Sustainability, Gauthier and student collaborators built and maintained the hydroponic vertical farm, where peppers, strawberries, herbs, and other plants were grown only with water and nutrient solutions—no soil.
At the end of June, Gauthier left for Delaware Valley University in Doylestown, PA, where he will start an appointment as Professor of Plant Science. Although an offshoot in Forbes College will remain, the main farm has been shuttered, with equipment in Moffett Laboratory dismantled and placed in storage.
As the global population continues to rise, vertical farming has grown in popularity, as the practice requires less water, space, and energy than traditional farms. Vertical farms can yield several harvests of fresh produce a year, which could help to feed growing urban centers.
According to Gauthier, although many start-ups have tried vertical farming, few have succeeded. Many have been forced to close after a few years due to lack of revenue and funding. In addition, he said, little research has been conducted on best practices, such as how water, nutrients, and the environment influence plant growth.