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Move agriculture to the big city and save the planet


The concept of vertical farming is briliant. Use abandoned city buildings and other special structures to create giant growing chambers for fruits and vegetables.

But critics say until better technology comes along, this system uses more energy to produce locally than what what be used to transport produce from the countryside.

The idea of buying farm produce locally has spawned a number of far out ideas over the years. But one I read recently – moving agriculture into abandoned big city buildings, and allow much of our nation’s farmland to return to its natural state to help ease global warming – well that just about took the cake.

The concept at the heart of the aforementioned idea, vertical farming, is really quite brilliant. In fact, several of these ventures are already operational. For example, inside a 12-story triangular building in Sweden, plants travel on special racks to optimize sunlight penetration and harvest. And in a former meat-packing plant in Chicago, veggies are grown on floating rafts. In another technique, plant roots are suspended in the air and painted with nutrients, eliminating the need for soil.

Vertical farming is touted as a way to supply produce to the citizens of a big city and eliminate the energy costs associated with shipping it from the countryside. Critics of vertical farming point out that any energy savings from not having to transport food into cities would most likely be more than offset by the higher energy cost of running the vertical farm.

The man considered the father of vertical farming, Dickson Despommier, a professor at Columbia University, believes that skyscraper farming can overcome these problems with new technology. Once that is out of the way, Despommier believe vertical farming could eventually produce half of the world’s food.

That seems a bit ambitious. But he didn’t stop there.

 “A significant portion of farmland could be abandoned. Ecosystem functions would rapidly improve, and the rate of global warming would slow down,” Despommier said.

And so, in an ironic twist of fate, farming would move from the country to the city, sort of like the old television show Green Acres, only in reverse.

“Darlin’ I love you, but give me Park Avenue tomatoes.”

Of course, ideas like vertical farming, or organic farming for that matter, catch on because Americans, rightly or wrongly, want to believe that there is a better way to produce the world’s food, fiber, fuel and feed.

That’s why it’s so much more difficult to convince people these days that conventional agriculture, although far from perfect, is the only time-proven, sustainable system in existence that continues to pay strong dividends for producers and consumers.

And it’s relatively simple – plant the seed in the soil, nurture and protect the crop, then harvest it. And of course, make sure you’re able to repeat the process indefinitely and consistently supply enough food for everybody.

It’s nice to think about a city farm stretching into the sky, whirling and humming and turning out produce for city folks like a giant, 12-story vending machine. But for me, nothing will ever replace the good old outdoors, a patch of dirt and the skills of the American farmer.

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

on Oct 26, 2012

I grew up on a family farm in the 1960's.There is a beauty and primal quality to living off the land. The small farm remains alive even today, but most agricultural land in the US and elsewhere has long morphed into far larger scaled operations that are far from sustainable. 70% of all human related water withdrawal on the planet are tied to crop irrigation. Our food system is entirely dependent on massive inputs of fossil fuels, chemical fertilizers and herbicides and pesticides. A shift to organic farming won't get the job done - as labor costs increase, yields fall somewhat and fossil fuels and water inputs remain unchanged.

Vertical farming will be far more resource conserving, will be renewably powered, will provide year round production at 20-40 times the productivity of conventional agriculture.

No single solution will meet all of our food needs for food, but vertical urban agriculture should become a welcome addition to our portfolio of solutions.

2-3 Billion more people on the planet by 2050, 80% living in urban centers requires it. 80% of all possible arable land is already in use. We must become far more efficient in feeding humanity.

I am developing such a system that is 100% renewably powered and is localized an can indeed be applied within any urban center of the world with little or no cost increase with most fruit and vegetable commodities today.

Will it replace farms? Probably not - but you had better hope these vertical farming solutions begin to take off soon, or we all will see a far less food secure planet and that won't be pretty.

jc (not verified)
on Nov 2, 2012

"As environmental science has advanced, it has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future: deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease." Worldwatch Institute, "Is Meat Sustainable?"

"The livestock sector emerges as one of the top contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency." UN Food and Agricultural Organization's report "Livestock's Long Shadow"

“If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains... the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.” Environmental Defense Fund

Why would someone choose to be vegan? To slow global warming for one! Here are two uplifting videos to help everyone understand why so many people are making this life affirming choice: and

"Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet." ~ Albert Einstein

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