A recent feature entitled “Skyfarming” in New York Magazine described Columbia University professor of environmental science and microbiology, Dr. Dickson Despommier‘s idea to grow fruits, vegetables, and grains in 30-story urban skyscrapers. “Vertical farming” would not only produce food for the growing population, but would also generate energy, output purified wastewater, and counter global warming. Here’s a schematic designed by Gordon Graff (for other designs click here):


Dr. Despommier’s website, Vertical Farming, states:

It took humans 10,000 years to learn how to grow most of the crops we now take for granted. Along the way, we despoiled most of the land we worked, often turning verdant, natural ecozones into semi-arid deserts. Within that same time frame, we evolved into an urban species, in which 60% of the human population now lives vertically in cities. . . . . The time is at hand for us to learn how to safely grow our food inside environmentally controlled multistory buildings within urban centers. If we do not, then in just another 50 years, the next 3 billion people will surely go hungry, and the world will become a much more unpleasant place in which to live.

Some of the advantages of skyfarming that the Vertical Farming website lists are:

  • Year-round crop production (1 indoor acre is equivalent to 4-6 outdoor acres or more)
  • No weather-related crop failures due to droughts, floods, pests
  • Ability to grow food organically with no herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers
  • Elimination of agricultural runoff through the recycling of black water
  • Return of traditional farmland to nature, restoring ecosystem functions and services
  • Reduction of infectious diseases that are acquired at the agricultural interface
  • Conversion of black and gray water into potable water by collecting the water of
  • Methane (energy) generation from composting non-edible
    parts of plants and animals
  • Reduction in fossil fuel use (no tractors, plows, shipping.)
  • Conversion of abandoned urban properties into food production centers
  • Creation of sustainable environments for urban centers
  • New employment opportunities

Solving the world’s environmental problems will require innovative approaches – solutions derived from outside-the-box thinking – and Dr. Despommier’s vertical farming proposal is a perfect example. Skyfarming may or may not deliver all the benefits Dr. Despommier claims, but the approach is sensible and worth implementing. Achieving a sustainable planet will require a multitude of small steps – product improvements, capturing energy in increments, choosing green building materials, recycling carpets, green roofs, hybrid cars – that together can add up to significant improvements and real solutions to the environmental crisis.

To read Dr. Despommier’s essay on vertical farming, click here.

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