Architect Gabriella Funaro from ENEA (the National Agency for New Technology, Energy, and Sustainable Economic Development), joined the FS 501 Food, Environment, and Society course to describe how ENEA works across sectors on a number of sustainability projects, including developments for solar thermodynamic energy, decarbonization projects, and biotechnology innovations. Funaro’s presentation, however, narrowed in on their vertical farm initiatives, which she described as one of the solutions to feeding a growing population in an increasingly urban environment. 

Funaro posited Agriculture 4.0—a term referring to the digitalization of the industry and inclusive of urban gardens—as an innovation that in the longer term might help meet the demands of a rising population, in a situation of land scarcity with the added complexity of mitigating climate change risks. These types of farms take many forms, including rooftop or community gardens, closed-cycle greenhouses, Arkeofarms brought to life in abandoned buildings, or even portable vertical farms—the focus of her work. Given the global pervasiveness of cities and the loss of arable land today, Funaro detailed the practicalities of developing sustainable farming systems, fit to feed a population under the duress of climate change impacts. 



The American University of Rome
Vertical Farming
Container Farming
The future of agriculture


ENEA’s vertical farms are hydroponic systems, reliant on mechanized irrigation to guarantee precision in resource usage. The space relies heavily on technology to ensure its sustainability: not only is the farm climate controlled with LED lights, but the system also controls pH and salinity levels through its internal irrigation methods, thereby removing the need for pesticide use. These closed systems thus reduce pollution and thrive without soil dependence, making them more ecologically adaptable for the future of farming. Entirely self-sufficient, the farms are often maintained by robotic arms, thereby removing the need for intensive human labor—but perhaps also raising pertinent questions about the impending availability of employment for lifelong farmers and the loss of traditional, agricultural knowledge for future generations. 

While the prototypes are new, the farms are highly productive and ready for implementation. Given their portability via tractor trailer cars, Funaro emphasized that these systems may offer the possibility of fresh produce to food insecure regions around the world, further highlighting their centrality in generating a more sustainable future. Funaro provided a glimpse into a vision of Agriculture 4.0 brought to life by describing agricultural districts; that is, areas which have successfully integrated green landscapes into urban settings, and which are taking root in China and the Netherlands, among other places.  

While the science is highly promising, it does carry significant implications on excessive energy use and concerns around efficiency. Finding ways to reduce electric consumption and to make these farming systems cost-friendly will be essential to delivering a truly sustainable project for the benefit of those who need it most.  

----Report by Michaela Colangelo, Graduate Student Assistant

----Lecture held on Nov. 18, 2021