Vertical farming

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Proposed designs for vertical farms

Vertical farming is a proposal to conduct large-scale agriculture in urban high-rises or "farmscrapers".[1] Using recycled resources and greenhouse methods such as hydroponics, these buildings would produce fruit, vegetables, edible mushrooms and algae year-round. Their proponents argue that, by allowing traditional outdoor farms to revert to a natural state and reducing the energy costs needed to transport foods to consumers, vertical farms could significantly alleviate climate change produced by excess atmospheric carbon.

Dickson Despommier, a professor of environmental health sciences and microbiology at Columbia University in New York City, developed the idea of vertical farming in 1999 with graduate students in a medical ecology class. Architectural designs have been produced by Andrew Kranis at Columbia University and Gordon Graff [2][3][4] at the University of Waterloo.

Mass media attention began with an article by Lisa Chamberlin in New York magazine.[5] Since 2007, articles have appeared in The New York Times[6], U.S. News & World Report[7], Popular Science[8] and Maxim, among others, as well as radio and television features.


[edit] Economic analysis

The detailed analytical work needed to establish the feasibility of vertical farming has not yet been done. Nevertheless, Despommier has argued that the idea is plausible. He estimates that, using currently available technologies, one vertical farm occupying one square city block and rising 30 stories would feed 10,000 people.[9] Because the stacked growing surfaces of a vertical farm would receive far less sunlight than the equivalent land area in a rural farm, the vertical farm would require a significant level of artificial lighting and heating to operate in all seasons. Critics claim that expense of providing artificial lighting to crops growing on the lower floors is so high that vertical farming is not economically feasible.[10] Proponents of vertical farming have yet to demonstrate that the cost of producing and transporting energy from renewable sources which are mainly located in rural areas to an urban vertical farm can compete with the energy costs of directly growing food under sunlight in rural areas and then transporting it to cities.

[edit] Advantages

Several potential advantages of vertical farming have been discussed by Despommier.[9] Many of these benefits are obtained from scaling up hydroponic or aeroponic growing methods. Others relate to vertical farming building designs that would allow the use of renewable energy sources (wind and solar) and the recycling of materials of production such as water.

[edit] Continuous crop production

Unlike traditional farming, indoor farming can produce crops year-round. All-season farming multiplies the productivity of the farmed surface by a factor of 4 to 6 depending on the crop. With some crops, such as strawberries, the factor may be as high as 30.

[edit] Protection from weather-related crop failures

Because it provides a controlled environment, the productivity of vertical farms would be independent of weather and protected from extreme weather events. Protection from extreme weather may become a crucial feature as climate change increases the occurrence of such events.

[edit] Reduction of farmland

The widespread adoption of vertical farming would allow much existing farmland to be returned to nature. This could reduce deforestation, desertification, and other consequences of agricultural encroachment on natural biomes.

[edit] Reduction in the use of fossil fuels

Because vertical farming allows crops to be grown closer to consumers, it may substantially reduce the amount of fossil fuels currently used to transport and refrigerate farm produce. Producing food indoors reduces or eliminates conventional plowing, planting, and harvesting by farm machinery powered by fossil fuels. Burning less fossil fuel would reduce air pollution and the carbon dioxide emissions that cause climate change.

[edit] Organic crops

The controlled growing environment and recycling reduces the need for pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Advocates claim that producing organic crops in vertical farms is practical and the most likely production and marketing strategy.

[edit] Water recycling

Because water recycling is more practical and economic in a controlled agricultural environment, vertical farming would use much less water than traditional farming. Vertical farming would convert black and gray water into potable water by collecting the water released into the air by evapotranspiration. Today, over 70% of the liquid fresh water on Earth is used for conventional agriculture. The agriculture often pollutes the water with fertilizers and pesticides. Vertical farms will use less water, and recycle it. The recycling condenses water transpired from the plants. This recycled water is pure, and can be used for crops or drinking.[11]

[edit] Energy production

Vertical farms are potential locations for power generation. Methane digesters could be built on site to transform the organic waste generated at the farm into Biogas which is generally composed of 65% methane along with a host of other gasses. This Biogas can then be burned to generate electricity that can either be consumed at the farm or added to the grid. [12]

[edit] Halting mass extinction

Withdrawing human activity from large areas of the earth's land surface may be necessary to slow and eventually halt the current anthropogenic mass extinction of land animals. Because most of the earth's human-occupied land is used for agriculture, vertical farming may be the only way to restore enough land for animal habitat to prevent extinction while continuing to sustain large human populations.

Traditional agriculture is highly disruptive to wild animal populations that live in and around farmland and may become unethical when there is a viable alternative. One study showed that wood mouse populations dropped from 25 per hectare to 5 per hectare after harvest, estimating 10 animals killed per hectare each year with conventional farming.[13] In comparison, vertical farming would cause very little destruction of insects and other wildlife deaths.

[edit] Less animal-to-human transmission of infectious disease

Because vertical farming would be conducted in a controlled indoor environment, there is opportunity to reduce the incidence of many infectious diseases that are acquired at the agricultural interface.

[edit] Urban Growth

Vertical Farming, used in conjunction with other technologies and socioeconomic practices, could allow cities to expand while remaining largely self sufficient. This would allow for large urban centers that could grow without destroying considerably larger areas of forest to provide food for their people.

[edit] Technologies & Devices

Vertical farming relies on the use of various physical methods to become effective. Combining these technologies and devices in an integrated whole is what a Vertical Farm consists of. Various types are proposed and under research. The most common technologies used are:

[edit] Plans

Professor Despommier argues that the technology to construct vertical farms currently exists. He also believes that the system can be profitable and effective, a claim evidenced by some preliminary research posted on the project's website. Developers and local governments in the following cities have expressed serious interest in establishing a vertical farm: Inchon (South Korea), Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), and Dongtan (China).[14]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ "Urbanism and the environment | Gristmill: The environmental news blog | Grist". Retrieved on 2009-03-14. 
  2. ^ Whyte, Murray (2008-07-27). "Is highrise farming in Toronto's future?". Toronto Star. Retrieved on 2008-08-12. 
  3. ^ "High Density Urban Agriculture". SkyFarm. Retrieved on 2009-03-14. 
  4. ^ "Sky Farm Proposed for Downtown Toronto". TreeHugger. Retrieved on 2009-03-14. 
  5. ^ Chamberlin, Lisa (2007-04-02). "Skyfarming". New York Magazine. 
  6. ^ Venkataraman, Bina (2008-07-15). "Country, the City Version: Farms in the Sky Gain New Interest". New York Times. 
  7. ^ Shute, Nancy (2007-05-20). "Farm of the Future? Someday food may grow in skyscrapers". U.S. News & World Report. 
  8. ^ Feldman, Amy (2007-07-11). "Skyscraper Farms". Popular Science. 
  9. ^ a b Despommier, D. (2008). The Vertical Farm Essay I.
  10. ^ Nelson, B. (2008).Could vertical farming be the future? MSNBC.
  11. ^ Pope, C.T. (2008-09-12). "Rethinking cities: Moving the farm indoors". Circle of Blue. 
  12. ^ Case Study - Landfill Power Generation, H. Scott Matthews, Green Design Initiative, Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved 07.02.09
  13. ^ S.L. Davis (2001). "The least harm principle suggests that humans should eat beef, lamb, dairy, not a vegan diet". Proceedings of the Third Congress of the European Society for Agricultural and Food Ethics: 449-450. 
  14. ^ McConnell, Kathryn (2008-07-01). "Vertical Farms Grow Food by Growing Up, Not Out". Bureau of International Information Programs. United States Department of State. Retrieved on 2008-08-12. 

[edit] External links

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