Vertical farming systems (VFS) have been proposed as an engineering solution to increase productivity per unit area of cultivated land by extending crop production into the vertical dimension. To test whether this approach presents a viable alternative to horizontal crop production systems, a VFS (where plants were grown in upright cylindrical columns) was compared against a conventional horizontal hydroponic system (HHS) using lettuce (Lactuca sativa L. cv. “Little Gem”) as a model crop. Both systems had similar root zone volume and planting density. Half‐strength Hoagland's solution was applied to plants grown in perlite in an indoor controlled environment room, with metal halide lamps providing artificial lighting. Light distribution (photosynthetic photon flux density, PPFD) and yield (shoot fresh weight) within each system were assessed. Although PPFD and shoot fresh weight decreased significantly in the VFS from top to base, the VFS produced more crop per unit of growing floor area when compared with the HHS. Our results clearly demonstrate that VFS presents an attractive alternative to horizontal hydroponic growth systems and suggest that further increases in yield could be achieved by incorporating artificial lighting in the VFS.