Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Vertical Farming

Vertical Farming offers a much needed response to the world crises society faces today such as population increases, decreasing food supplies, a dwindling ecology, pollution, climate change, dramatically reduced transportation loads , urban heat island effect are to name a few.

In 2027 the world’s population will have reached 10 billion double the population of 5 billion around 20 years ago and it’s not as though the increase will not stop there; it will carry on infinitely and exponentially thereafter (1).

Population increase quite logically increases the effect of every man made impact we have on this earth.

To name a few:
· De-forestation
· Urban sprawl
· Pollution
· Global Warming

Vertical Farming has the potential to address all of these issues. It can dramatically reduce de-forestation as there is far less land needed for vertical farming than traditional farming methods. It can help to reduce urban sprawl with less processing factories, transport hubs and transport infrastructure. It can reduce pollution by dramatically reducing the transport loads, chemicals and other pesticides used in more recent farming.

In 50 years 80% of the Earth's population will live in cities. 80% of the land that can be used to grow crops is already in use, and 15% of that land has been damaged by poor agricultural practices (2). Yet we rush to find a replacement for our depleting oil reserves when the amount of land we have for food production is diminishing at a much faster rate.

There is fast becoming an increasing interest in Vertical Farming throughout the world. Indoor farming is not a new concept, as greenhouse-based agriculture has been in existence for some time. Many commercially viable crops (e.g., strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, herbs, and spices) have seen their way to the world’s supermarkets in increasing amounts over the last 15 years. Most of these operations have been much smaller the traditional farming methods. However unlike their outdoor counterparts, these facilities can produce crops year-round. Japan, Scandinavia, New Zealand, the United States, and Canada have thriving greenhouse industries, yet to this day none have been constructed as multi-story buildings. There have been other food items that have been commercialized by indoor farming such as freshwater fishes (e.g., tilapia, trout, stripped bass), and a wide variety of crustaceans and mollusks (e.g., shrimp, crayfish, mussels) (3).

For those of us that recognise the earth is warming, there is evidence to suggest that the cooling effect of our forests and vegetation has been severely underestimated, according to one of the worlds leading scientific research organizations, Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). (19).

A Columbian University Professor, Dickson Despommier has stated that, “Farm able to feed 50,000 people could 'fit comfortably within a city block' (4).

We are starting to see a more 3D way of thinking towards agriculture, as opposed to the very much 2D thinking we have been previously prone to. Las Vegas is to begin development of the World’s first vertical farm. This $200 million dollar project is designed to be a functional and profitable working farm growing enough food to feed 72,000 people for a year. Furthermore it aims to provide another tourist attraction to the city that was already notorious for building a casino in a desert and still becoming the tourist attraction it is today. With annual revenue of $25 million from produce and another $15 million from tourists the 30 story vertical farm would be about as profitable as a casino with operating expenses only being about $6 million a year, these figures would equate to the building paying itself of in just under 6 years! A remarkable achievement for such a prototype (3).

They plan to grow a hundred different crops, ranging from strawberries to lettuce even miniature banana trees could be grown from each floors specially controlled environment. They aim to have all the products going straight to the casinos and hotel properties, as well as creating a very identifiable and desirable addition to the overall Las Vegas experience. The overall time frame is that the design details should be worked out in 2008 and the project open its doors by the middle of 2010 (3)!

Some farmers are already operating successful, complex farming systems based on biological synergies and adaptive management. Takao Furuno's duck/fish/rice/fruit farm in Japan. Furuno produces duck meat, duck eggs, fish meat, fruit, and rice without any purchased outside inputs, using a highly synergistic system of production. This all takes place on the same acreage, where previously, he only produced rice. In this new system, his rice yields have increased up to 50% over previous yields from an energy-intensive rice monoculture. On a similar level Joel Salatin, of Polyface Farms near Swoope, VA, has developed a rotational grazing production system. This features pastures containing at least 40 varieties of plants and numerous animal species. The farm is highly productive, yet uses little fossil fuel. The 57-hectare farm annually produces 30,000 dozen eggs, 10,000 to 12,000 broilers, 100 beef animals, 250 hogs, 800 turkeys, and 600 rabbits (5).

Fully sustainable systems in contained environments have proven to be very succesfull. The innovative approach of combining fish farming, and high yield - quality plant production is already booming business for the Australian company "Ecocityfarm." (18)

A study by George Boody and colleagues has calculated, on a watershed basis, that diverse, synergistic farms can be profitable and simultaneously benefit the environment. Furthermore they were able to show by their calculations that when farms are converted from corn/soybean monocultures to more diverse operations, net farm income can increase by as much as 108%, while generating significant environmental and social benefits. It seems that principles guiding postmodern farms are almost diametrically opposed to those supporting industrial agriculture. Perhaps an awareness of the following could be more widely adopted:

· Be energy conserving · Feature both biological and genetic diversity · Be largely self-regulating and self-renewing · Be knowledge intensive · Operate on biological synergies · Employ adaptive management · Feature ecological restoration rather than choosing between extraction and preservation · Achieve optimum productivity by featuring nutrient-density, and multi-product synergistic production on limited acreage (6).

The choices of entities to integrate within vertical farming are endless, a highly profitable and marketable strategy is to integrate office space. “New York magazine asked four architects to dream up proposals for a lot on Canal Street and Work AC came up with this unique and special design. The design is both unique and special. It is like a terrace stretching in to the sky and underneath the giant staircase is plenty of space for selling what has been grown on top. It is both ecologically and economically sound design with space for both production and marketing. I can only imagine how advertising firms would line up to get a space on this one! (7).” Indoor fish farming is widely used internationally and has proven to be more successful than previous methods (3).


One of the most exciting possibilities or one which could seemingly have the largest global impact would be the systematic abandonment of farm land in order to restore a healthier and stronger ecology.

Vertical farms in polluted and hot urban environments can create healthier environment not only with the obvious cleaner air, but also healthier water supplies for any potential residents of the building. There would also be fewer abandoned lots and/or buildings as vertical farming would be a prime use for these areas.

Vertical Farming could offer more exciting employment opportunities.

Traditional farming has been known to create many health risks (e.g., schistosomes, malaria, geohelminths). These diseases can disable large populations, in turn removing them from the flow of commerce, even in the poorest of countries. Other health risks to farmers include acute exposure to toxic agrochemicals (e.g., pesticides and fungicides), bites from noxious wildlife, and trauma injuries. The latter two risk categories are particularly common among “slash and burn” subsistence farmers. It is reasonable to expect that as the human population continues to grow, so do these problems (2).

One exciting possibility is to work with existing restaurants or to integrate restaurants within. This can provide huge energy benefits as well as demonstrating full cycle sustainability. It is claimed that methane generation from this single restaurant could contribute significantly to energy generation, and may be able to supply enough to run vertical farms without the use of electricity from the grid (4).

The multitude of plant variates that exist actually work in favour of vertical farming, as vertical structures naturally create varying pockets of mini-climates, due to the various levels of shaded areas and differing temperatures. There are plants which enjoy more shade and others that prefer more direct/strong light, others may be deciduous etc.

Other possibilities are:
· Elimination for large scale use of pesticides and herbicides
· All year round food production
· Far less land area used

Society has come to the point in its evolution where global thinking is now an ethical necessity.

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2. Richard, Michael. Vertical Farming – The Future of Agriculture? [Online] 06 June 2005.
3. [Online] 2008.
4. Nelson, Bryn. Could vertical farming be the future? New York : MSNBC Interactive, 2008.
5. Despommier, Dickson. The Vertical Farm Essay. New York : Columbia University, 2005.
6. Kirschenmann, Fred. Future Farming. [Online] 11 June 2008.
7. Attitude. Vertical Farming: Let the greens stretch in to the blue. [Online] 18 April 2008.
8. Limited, AEC Group. REPORT ON THE SUNSHINE COAST REGIONAL ECONOMY. Sunshine Coast : NJ Printing, 2005. ISSN 1449-0358.
9. Green Skins. Callaghan, Greg. Surry Hills : The Weekend Australian Magazine, 2008, Vols. June 21-22.
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14. Kawachi, Ichiro and Wamala, Sarah. Globalization and Health. US : Oxford University Press, 2006.
15. Clark, Colin. Population Growth and Land Use. London : Macmillan, 1968.
16. Heij, Elizabeth. CSIRO: SUSTAINABILITY NETWORK. Glen Osmond, SA, Australia : s.n., 15 Feb 2007.
17. Energy cannot be created nor destroyed. [Online] 13 May 2008.
18. Ecocityfarm -
19. Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) -