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.
It took humans 10,000 years to learn how to grow most of the crops we now take for granted. Along the way, we despoiled most of the land we worked, often turning verdant, natural ecozones into semi-arid deserts. Within that same time frame, we evolved into an urban species, in which 60% of the human population now lives vertically in cities. This means that, for the majority, we humans are protected against the elements, yet we subject our food-bearing plants to the rigors of the great outdoors and can do no more than hope for a good weather year. However, more often than not now, due to a rapidly changing climate regime, that is not what follows. Massive floods, protracted droughts, class 4-5 hurricanes, and severe monsoons take their toll each year, destroying millions of tons of valuable crops. Don’t our harvestable plants deserve the same level of comfort and protection that we now enjoy? The time is at hand for us to learn how to safely grow our food inside environmentally controlled multistory buildings within urban centers. If we do not, then in just another 50 years, the next 3 billion people will surely go hungry, and the world will become a much more unpleasant place in which to live.
Advantages of Vertical Farming
- Year-round crop production; 1 indoor acre is equivalent to 4-6 outdoor acres or more, depending upon the crop (e.g., strawberries: 1 indoor acre = 30 outdoor acres);
- No weather-related crop failures due to droughts, floods, pests;
- All VF food is grown organically: no herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers;
- VF virtually eliminates agricultural runoff by recycling black water;
- VF returns farmland to nature, restoring ecosystem functions and services;
- VF greatly reduces the incidence of many infectious diseases that are acquired at the agricultural interface;
- VF converts black and gray water into potable water by collecting the water of evapotranspiration;
- VF adds energy back to the grid via methane generation from composting non-edible parts of plants and animals;
- VF dramatically reduces fossil fuel use (no tractors, plows, shipping.);
- VF converts abandoned urban properties into food production centers;
- VF creates sustainable environments for urban centers;
- VF creates new employment opportunities;
- We cannot go to the moon, Mars, or beyond without first learning to farm indoors on earth;
- VF may prove to be useful for integrating into refugee camps;
- VF offers the promise of measurable economic improvement for tropical and subtropical LDCs. If this should prove to be the case, then VF may be a catalyst in helping to reduce or even reverse the population growth of LDCs as they adopt urban agriculture as a strategy for sustainable food production;
- VF could reduce the incidence of armed conflict over natural resources, such as water and land for agriculture.
One of the first designs of its kind, the compelling vertical farm project above was undertaken by Chris Jacobs in cooperation with the grandfather of skyscraper farm concepts: Dr. Dickson Despommier of Columbia University. His ideal: all-in-one eco-towers would be actually produce more energy, water (via condensation/purification) and food than their occupants would consume. His mission: to gather architects, engineers, economists and urban planners to develop a sustainable and high-tech wonder of ecological engineering.
Architect Pierre Sartoux of Atelier SOA has gone a step further and put some serious design talent behind his proposal for a vertical farming skyscraper. A light-shading skin wraps around the structure and opens to admit sunlight at particular locations for various functional (and aesthetic) purposes. The building’s air, heating and cooling systems are wind-driven and circulate oxygen and carbon dioxide between growing and living spaces. The simple but reinforced structure is designed to handle additional dead loads from the weight of growing floors and also serve to make the entire building more durable (and thus sustainable).