Vertical Farming: Agriculture of Future

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

Vertical farming is a concept that argues that it is economically and environmentally viable to cultivate plant or animal life within skyscrapers, or on vertically inclined surfaces. The idea of a vertical farm has existed at least since the early 1950s and built precedents are well documented by John Hix in his canonical text “The Glass House”.

Irrespective of their origins, there are three classifications debated by contemporary scholars.

  • The phrase “vertical farming” was coined by Gilbert Ellis Bailey in 1915. In his book “Vertical Farming”, Bailey defined the earliest meanings and methods of vertical farming:   ”Vertical Farming”, to coin a name, is the keynote of a new agriculture that has come to stay, for inexpensive explosives enable the farmer to farm deeper, to go down to increase area, and to secure larger crops. Instead of spreading out over more land he concentrates on less land and becomes an intensive rather than an extensive agriculturist, and soon learns that it is more profitable to double the depth of his fertile land than to double the area of his holdings, and he learns that his best aid and servant in this work is a good explosive. Peace congresses demand that swords be turned into pruning hooks. The farmer is busy turning explosives from war to agriculture, from death dealing to life giving work.
  • The second category of vertical farming falls under the concepts proposed and built by architect Ken Yeang developed at least ten years before Despommier. Yeang proposes that instead of hermetically sealed mass produced agriculture that plant life should be cultivated within open air, mixed-use skyscrapers for climate control and consumption (i.e. a personal or communal planting space as per the needs of the individual). This version of vertical farming is based upon personal or community use rather than the wholesale production and distribution plant and animal life that aspires to feed an entire city. It thus requires less of an initial investment than Despommier’s “The Vertical Farm”. However, neither Despommier nor Yeang are the conceptual “originators”, nor is Yeang the inventor of vertical farming in skyscrapers.
  • The third category vertical farming was made by American ecologist Dr. Dickson Despommier. Despommier argues that vertical farming is legitimate due to environmental reasons. He claims that the cultivation of plant and animal life within skyscrapers will produce less embedded energy and toxicity than plant and animal life produced on natural landscapes. He moreover claims that natural landscapes are too toxic for natural, agricultural production, despite the ecological and environmental costs of extracting materials to build skyscrapers for the simple purpose of agricultural production.

Advantages

  • Preparation for the future
  • Protection from weather-related problems
  • Organic crops
  • Halting mass extinction
  • Positive Impact on human health
  • Urban growth
  • Energy production

Technologies and devices

Vertical farming relies on the use of various physical methods to become effective. Combining these technologies and devices in an integrated whole is necessary to make Vertical Farming a reality. Various methods are proposed and under research. The most common technologies suggested are:
Greenhouse
The Folkewall and other vertical growing architectures
Aeroponics / Hydroponics / Aquaponics
Composting
Grow light
Phytoremediation
Skyscraper

Links and Sources:

Wikipedia

BBC

vertical farm site

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