By 2050, the world’s population will have increased by 3 billion people, requiring an additional chunk of arable land the size of Brazil in order to grow enough food. Add to that the potential loss of coastal property from rising sea levels, crop loss from drastic weather related incidents, and the need to reforest large swaths of land to sequester CO2. What we’re left with is a global mess that could be helped by a new agricultural technique – vertical farming. Located in an urban setting, the vertical farm is a win-win idea that automates the production of food in a more sustainable manner, by reducing waste, pollution and carbon emissions.
By the time 2050 rolls around, 80% of the world’s population will dwell in an urban setting. With more and more people focused on healthy, organic food bought locally, the demand is even greater to bring food production closer to the city. Vertical farms are not meant to eliminate traditional rural farming, but merely to reduce the strain put on the land and allow some of it to return to nature and forest. For every indoor acre farmed, 10 to 20 outdoor acres of farmland could return to their natural ecological state, which in most cases is hardwood forest.
Local and urban vertical farms have many eco-benefits for both the surrounding region and the planet. Vertical farms will rely solely on hydroponic organic farming techniques, which means no pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and no pollution injected into waterways. Vertical farms will be highly efficient and densely built, eliminating heavy machinery and farming equipment responsible for a significant amount of agricultural emissions. Water for irrigation will likely come from treated rainwater, grey or blackwater. And water use can be significantly reduced by recycling water and through the efficient use and reuse of water inside the farm.
Located in the city center, shipping and its associated environmental impact will be practically eliminated. Crops themselves will be monitored closely and provided with the exact growing conditions necessary to each species, thereby improving yields. Indoor controlled growth eliminates crop loss due to weather and natural disasters such as flood, drought or hurricanes. On top of that, a boom of urban, green-tech jobs will become available for growers, researchers, technicians, vendors and more.
In order to create such a high tech growing machine, a number of sustainable technologies will be integrated into one building. All of these technologies are currently available, but not all have been combined into one site yet. Gray and blackwater, along with rainwater will be treated for irrigation use, which will be combined with water recovery systems to collect unused water for use in aeroponic and hydroponic growing. Environmental conditions will be tightly controlled for each crop, maximizing growth, while minimizing the use of water and nutrients. Waste from plants will be either composted for fertilizer or will be combined with animal waste and used as a fuel within the building. Energy will be generated from renewable resources like the sun and wind, while energy efficient building technologies will minimize energy needs. Ideally the building could create more energy than it needs and feed the excess back onto the grid.
Crop production would become a year round activity and makes one acre of indoor growing area equivalent to 4-6 outdoor acres or more. Inside the farm will grow and care for all sorts of edibles, like vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, poultry, fish, pigs. A leading researcher on vertical farms, Dickson Despommier from Columbia University, estimates one vertical farm is enough to feed 50,000 people.
While some may argue that treating the farm like an industrialized factory is moving too far away from nature, the concept has too many benefits to be ignored. Both people and the planet would benefit by such treatment of agriculture and location of some farms in closer proximity to the city centers. Vertical farms could never replace traditional agriculture, but it would certainly take the pressure off the arable land to produce all the food we will need and hopefully eliminate the need to resort to genetically modified crops, strife over water, or food shortages.
These fancy VF structures are there more towards architectural posturing than actual practically efficient operations. A real industrial-scale effort would take the form of straight vertical superstructures where every square foot is efficiently maximized in an expensive urban real estate setting, instead of these artsy contrivances.
The idea of high-rise vertical farming is a massive con to separate idealistic, scientifically uneducated investors from their money. Honestly,you would do better to grow lettuce, tomatoes and herbs on your city balcony.
Is it economically and ecologically viable and preferable to normal flat farming? Some of the criticism of vertical farms include it's economics and environment. It seems that savings from transporting food doesn't match the costs of lighting, air conditioning and building that would be required for vertical farming. The economist magazine and criticism on wikipedia show that it isn't viable in its current concept. What these critics don't see is that buildings, in their idea state, are multi-use structures (combining office, shopping, living, recreation, and light production in the same building). A building needn't be strictly office space. It can have narrow farm areas along it's sunnier sides, which are connected with the building's lunch/break rooms. This way people can have a very pleasant place to eat, and their food waste and coffee grounds would easily go into the composting apparatus. The office workers would provide CO2 for the plants and the plants return the favor with oxygen and cleaner air.
The idea of VF is exciting and catching also but my only apprehension is of insect pest and disease attack, if occurs, can destroy the system very quickly
Nice sci-fi graphics but here's the real thing happening right NOW... Time Magazine says Valcent's Vertical Farming Technology one of the Top 50 Best Innovations of 2009: http://bit.ly/5zDIqh "I can't think of any technology that addresses more urgent issues than Valcent's vertical farming system", says RFK Jr http://bit.ly/cPb00g
In an era of further increases population, I question the logic of automating the production of food ... especially since the cultivation of food is such an inherently human endeavour. Indeed, agriculture and permanent settlements are the two interdependent and interwoven foundational aspects of civilization. I want to be clear: I am not against vertical farming. I just believe that our primary focus should be 'making better use of what we already have' ... making best use of the available land area (soil) in urban/suburban areas. By this, I mean the yard spaces of residential properties (mostly suburban, admittedly), as well as school yards, commercial/industrial properties and institutional/hospitality. And we need to involve people in the production of food, not automate. Question this? Then, ask yourself: How would you like your current employment 'automated'? Gardening is such a human (and humane) activity - inherently satisfying, healthy and gives people 'meaning' to their lives (especially from the soul-destroying of so much modern employment). As for vertical farming, if it increases awareness of the importance of food (production) and makes it 'high profile', then it will serve a major purpose. It is my work to create this new Urban Agriculture as new professional industry. I write about Urban Agriculture and the greater aspect of Urban Transformation on my blog: Join me in discussion. http://www.davidnock.com/ Thanks, David Nock
You should check out the independent short film called Homegrown about a family who produces 6,000 lbs of organic veggies a year out of their 1/4 acre of land in PASADENA, CA...they supply the area restaurants with the organic food!!!!!
Love it! If your interested in following the development of a vertical farm, check us out at www.thefarmery.com. We're building a 4 story urban farm sized to fit in a neighborhood.
If your interested in seeing the process of a vertical farm being built, check out my blog, www.thefarmery.com. My team and I are building a 4 story vertical farm out of shipping containers. So we are focused on smaller, neighborhood sized farms instead of 50 story megabuildings. Let me know what you think! WWW.THEFARMERY.COM