Forget about farming in wide open spaces. The farms of the future will be in cities, where crops will flourish in multi-story buildings, writes Dr. Dickson Despommier in this op-ed piece in the New York Times. The prophet and father of the “vertical farm” notes that the rising number of floods and droughts — and a rising global population — will make traditional farming on land untenable.
Dr. Despommier makes a compelling case for indoor urban farming. Vertical farms take advantage of hydroponic and aeroponic technologies, which are soil-free and use as much as 90 percent less water than traditional cultivation techniques. They would free up farmland, allowing thousands of acres to return to their original ecological state.
Dr. Despommier sees high-rise farms as more than an agricultural take on Macy’s — potatoes, rutabaga and turnips on 7; collard, kale and chard on 6. Vertical farms, he writes, can also be incorporated into restaurants, schools, hospitals and even “the upper floors of apartment complexes.”
Dr. Despommier has no shortage of vision or imagination. He envisions vertical farms as “things of grace and beauty” with transparent walls and ceilings to let the sunlight in. From a distance, high-rise farms would look like “gardens suspended in space.”
He contends that vertical farming is no longer pie-in-the-sky dreaming. The futuristic form of farming is now feasible, thanks to the commercial success of greenhouse technology.
In Jamaica, Queens, for example, a rooftop greenhouse business, Gotham Greens, is on track to launch next year. The greenhouse on the 12,000-square-foot rooftop is expected to produce 30 tons of vegetables and herbs annually using hydroponic technology. The greenhouse will produce crops year-round.
Dr. Despommier proposes building a five-story prototype of a vertical farm in New York City. He argues that it would help further Mayor Bloomberg’s goal of a greener city by 2030 and could easily become a tourist attraction, generating significant revenue for the city. The sale of produce from the farm would also generate tax revenue.
The cost of the prototype? It’s estimated at $20 million to $30 million, a tough sell in today’s economy. It’s especially hard to make a case for farming in a city where finance reigns.
Still, with surging interest in farms and local food and growing concerns about the environment, who knows what the future holds. The city of financiers may just trade finance for farming.
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