This weekend I came up with an innovative solution to both the food shortage and the negative impact modern agricultural practices have on the environment... build up, not out! Then, reading the Huffington Post this morning, I found out that I did not invent this idea...
Vertical Farming, which has been discussed for years, would involve building high rise multi level "Farmscrapers" where farmers would employ sustainable farming practices in a controlled environment. Dickson Despommier, professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia, and one of the true pioneers of this idea, thinks this could ultimately ease the world's food, water, and energy crises. Despommier argues that the technology to build vertical farms currently exists and that it could be an economical and sustainable solution to a number of problems.
â€œItâ€™s not just a way of generating food. Itâ€™s a way of dealing with municipal waste, recycling water, and using methane digestion to help a city be sustainable.â€
The most obvious benefit is the space economy. By building up, we would not need to clear cut forests to make way for sprawling farms to increase food production. By "Growing Up" we could have farms in urban centers providing a local source of food for cities, greatly reducing food miles and the related pollution & energy consumption. Agricultural encroachment accounts for much of the world's deforestation and unsustainable farming practices can lead to desertification. Vertical Farms would allow for agricultural expansion in existing or abandoned urban properties, close to population centers.
Another major benefit would be the controlled nature of these Farmscrapers. Current agricultural practices wreak havoc on the environment. Subject to the elements, farmers utilize large amounts of fertilizers and pesticides to ensure crop production. Today, over 70% of the liquid fresh water on Earth is used for horizontal soil-based agriculture. Then instead of being used for drinking this water washes those fertilizers and pesticides into watersheds contaminating everything downstream.
By bringing the farms indoors you create a self contained system that is not affected and does not affect the outside environment. It allows for greater control of the growing environment and the crops are protected from harmful weather. Less harmful chemicals, if any, are needed and the ones that are used are contained in the system and not leached out into the surrounding ecosystem. In urban areas you can they can actually harvest local gray water for use in the "Farmscraper". That combined with rainwater harvesting will greatly reduce the need for ground water.
One potential drawback is the energy consumption of these systems. I think this could be addressed by the implementation of solar panels or wind turbines on the roof. Also, by composting the unused portion of the plants they could use the methane byproduct for power (like the process we touched on with the New Belgium Brewery).
There is also some resistance from people who are advocates for organic agriculture. While it is proposed that these farms would employ sustainable practices and grow organic food, some may resist the idea of the manufactured and unnatural way of growing food. Angela Caudle, executive director of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement explains,
â€œThe technological solution distracts from our human connection to agriculture and food production. I can appreciate an attempt to find sustainable ways to deal with producing more food for more people, but for me this is kind of like laboratory food.â€
Such weariness is understandable, however, food, water and energy shortages are a real and imminent problem. It's estimated that by 2050 there will be 9 billion people on this planet. We are having a tough time feeding everyone as it is, and we are struggling to balance the health of the planet with the needs of our population, and this is an excellent way to address these problems. This is a green "UP"GRADE we can get behind.
Read more about Vertical Farms at The Vertical Farm Project.