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Home > Feature Articles > Sustainable Development Best Practices for Community Sustainability

The Vertical Farm is NOT Your Daddy's Farm!

Innovation in the agricultural sector is moving along with the population to urban settings. Vertical farms are on the horizon.

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Urban Agriculture with Vertical Farms

Agriculture has been a hotbed of innovation since cattle were first domesticated. Urbanites don't think much about where their food comes from until there's a problem. But that could change if agriculture to meet the needs of the increasingly urban population becomes an urban business. The "Vertical Farm" concept could be the innovation that makes that transition in location, location, location!

The Problem

By the year 2050, nearly 80% of the earth's population will reside in urban centers. Applying the most conservative estimates to current demographic trends, the human population will increase by about 3 billion people during the interim. An estimated 109 hectares of new land (about 20% more land than is represented by the country of Brazil) will be needed to grow enough food to feed them, if traditional farming practices continue as they are practiced today. At present, throughout the world, over 80% of the land that is suitable for raising crops is in use (sources: FAO and NASA). Historically, some 15% of that has been laid waste by poor management practices. What can be done to avoid this impending disaster?

A Potential Solution: farm vertically

The concept of indoor farming is not new, since hothouse production of tomatoes, a wide variety of herbs, and other produce has been in vogue for some time. What is new is the urgent need to scale up this technology to accommodate another 3 billion people. An entirely new approach to indoor farming must be invented, employing cutting edge technologies. The Vertical Farm must be efficient (cheap to construct and safe to operate). Vertical farms, many stories high, will be situated in the heart of the world's urban centers. If successfully implemented, they offer the promise of urban renewal, sustainable production of a safe and varied food supply (year-round crop production), and the eventual repair of ecosystems that have been sacrificed for horizontal farming.

The goal of Urban Agriculture is not only more efficient land utilization, but also self-sustainability. As mentioned earlier, the current situation is one in which the city imports produce, and exports waste. Urban Agriculture strives to utilize waste and other resources within the city for crop production, thus closing the loop, and therefore creating a more self-sustained city (see figure 1 below). By utilizing these resources, Urban Agriculture should also be effective in lowering the cost of food. This is especially important for the poorer areas of the city, where food cost is a concern.

Available resources within the city limits for use in Urban Agriculture, such as the Vertical Farm, include wastewater, sewage sludge, post-consumer organic wastes, vacant lots, abandoned buildings, rooftops, and, of course, idle hands. There are many ways these resources can be utilized by various Urban Agricultural practices. This report seeks to explore the plausibility of the vertical farm specifically its impact on waste management practices, the ecology of the city, and other societal impacts.

Dr. Dickson Despommier, Ph.D.
Phone: (212) 781-6670
Fax: (212) 781-1830
Snail: Attn: Dr. Dickson Despommier
Environmental Health Science of Columbia University
60 Haven Ave. Room 100
New York, NY 10032

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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