High-rise Farming?

September 19, 2009 at 7:15 pm 4 comments

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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Entry filed under: Local Food Production, Rooftop Gardening, Urban Agriculture. Tags: , , , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Damon  |  September 20, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Just out of curiosity, why would this project cost 20 to 30 million dollars to put up greenhouses? Can someone clarify, e.g., cost allocation? I know this is would be large scale, but this much cash for plastic and tubing seems excessive.

  • 2. Robert Nagel  |  November 6, 2009 at 2:36 am

    While this idea utilizes the best technology and materials available, building a high rise garden would go against the idea of utilizing the margins of the city to produce food. Roof top gardens utilize wasted space to produce and therefore give a value to something that otherwise would not have one. I doubt it would be lucrative to build an extremely modern building just for food, but the idea of mixed usage including housing and offices is probably the most reasonable way to create a garden in the sky.

  • […] on the development of green roofs in the last two years and where they’re likely to go. In this post, urban farming leaps ahead with visionary Dr. Dickson Despommier’s notion of a “vertical […]

  • […] ran Friday in the New York Times. For related articles on rooftop farms in New York Bounty, click here, here and […]

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