Urban Agriculturalist: Vertical Farms

2c6b.jpg Urban Agriculturalist is a series on the ways city and suburb dwellers use their land as a food resource.

With an ever shrinking topographical footprint and a population in perpetual flux, the modern city has some feeding issues. A recent article in The Globe and Mail described the frustration of farmer’s market organizers over the shortage of independent farmers who are able to open stalls. The demand, it seems, is far outpacing the supply on a small scale, but also on a large one: the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 80% of the earth’s agriculturally-viable land is already farmed, but the earth’s population is expected to grow by 3 billion by 2050 (NASA via verticalfarm.com). With the impending expansion of an already existent disparity, what can we do to feed all people?

Dickson Despommier, an ecologist and epidemiology professor at Columbia University started the Vertical Farm Project as a workshop in conjunction with the architecture school. Students in the class collaborate on new and innovative ways to deliver vertically grown produce to 50,000 people per year. While the projects are still hypothetical, they may soon become a reality.

The food would be grown hydroponically, like most indoor-grown produce and the entirely glass structure would allow sufficient sunlight, much as a greenhouse does. In addition to providing food for a growing popultion, the tower farms would be impervious to drought and other dramatic weather changes, would not require pesticide use, and would use limited water as all water would be recycled. Perhaps most importantly, the vertical farm would enable humans to return horizontal surfaces to the natural underbrush and forests that belong there. In doing so, perhaps we could save our environment as we feed ourselves.

In an era of dogged obstinacy where our government would rather invest 300 billion dollars into our flagging corporate farms than contemplate a new system. Innovative and forward-thinking projects like this get little funding. But by training a generation of architecture and public health students to problem-solve in this fashion, Professor Despommier is ensuring a new kind of leadership as our food crisis grows acute.

To learn more about vertical farms, visit Professor Despommier’s site.

Image: Vertical Farm Project, “The Living Skyscraper” By Blake Kurasek

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