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Pop!Tech ’08: Vertical Farms

Dickson Despommier is the leading proponent of "vertical farming." If we build big, multi-tier, indoor urban farms, he says, we'll save on...


Dickson Despommier is the leading proponent of "vertical farming." If we build big, multi-tier, indoor urban farms, he says, we'll save on transportation costs, enjoy year-round harvests, and-most importantly, from his perspective-preserve the outdoors. Besides, he claims, there's just not enough land available on the planet to feed everybody by 2050 through regular old outdoor rural farming.The idea has been getting lots of attention. The New York Times picked it up, TreeHugger covers vertical farming regularly, and Scientific American did a story. A few architectural firms have produced concept designs for vertical farms, and the media coverage (like this post) invariably includes the exciting pictures. The NYT slideshow compiles some of the best images. All this hype obscures the hard part, though: building a vertical farm.Despommier insists the technology is there. We can farm indoors with artificial soil or hydroponics or aeroponics already. And rooftop gardens are taking off, so the public may not regard the idea as completely crazy. But controlling the flow of air and nutrients, recycling the water, and controlling the energy costs of the whole operation (heating in winter is costly, for example) are big challenges.Just now, at Pop!Tech, Despommier estimated that building a 5-story urban farm prototype would cost $20-30 million (and that's on abandoned city land, not prime Manhattan real estate). So there's another hurdle. But it'd be great to walk into an NYC deli and buy a BLT that was mostly grown in the stories above the storefront.Dickson Despommier's site is verticalfarm.com