Dr. Dickson Despommier is considered one of the world's foremost experts on vertical farms - a theoretical concept that may offer the panacea to our food production problems in the future. Supporters and critic of this concept abound, with fans proudly touting the benefits of towering botanical skyscrapers and naysayers concerned with how vertical farming could be misused, poorly executed and could rack up extreme costs. Dr. Despommier spoke to us about his book, The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century - read on for more!
The Vertical Farm is an expanded edition of Despommier’s earlier essay on vertical farming, which explains the many advantages of vertical farming. As Despommier rallies, vertical farms could enable every country in the world, regardless of climate or agricultural land, to be able to grow food in an efficient and sustainable manner. They could also save energy, reduce toxins, save water, provide new employment opportunities, restore ecosystems, and much more.
Granted, very few vertical farms have actually been built — there are a few small trial projects that utilize hydroponic growing techniques. Vertical farming is still largely theoretical, however Despommier makes the case that all the technology needed is available and at hand – it’s just there’s no funding for it yet. As Despommier says, “Every new idea will cost a lot to create, witness the cell phone and plasma screen TV, but as more of them become constructed, their cost will go down.”
Interestingly back during the summer, there were rumors going around that Dr. Despommier was working in collaboration with Weber Thompson on a vertical farm in Newark, NJ. As to the rumors, Despommier says they are just that — and that there are no plans for a vertical farm in New Jersey at this time.
In Despommier’s vision, vertical farming is a completely sustainable process where water is recycled and filtered, crops are organically raised, and no GMOs ever set foot within the door. Plant failure and diseases will be minimized by making the farms into “P2”-like facilities (which is a level of biosafety), in order to minimize infectious diseases and more unwanted pathogens. In addition, because vertical farms can be located anywhere, their proximity to urban centers could drastically reduce food miles and provide green collar jobs in agriculture.
Concerns about vertical farming include the transfer of farming into a factory, which would further mechanize and automate our food production. But Despommier believes that farming has been a blight on the natural landscape for 12,000 years, and that by producing food in vertical farms, “it will allow us for the first time to feed everyone on earth and still return land to its original ecological function.” For Despommier, the traditional agricultural system is a complete failure all over the world, as the system has not been able to efficiently produce enough food for the global population and because it operates at such a large cost to our environment. He believes that vertical farming will allow us to balance our food system with the rest of nature.
Lead Images © Marlene Bloom and Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press