Adam Stein on Vertical Farms: "Pie in the Sky"

Downtown Real Estate Too Expensive for Food Production?
Vertical Farming has gotten us TreeHuggers excited on more than one occasion. From this diagonal tower to a lively debate in our forums, the concept of moving food production closer to population centres is certainly an intriguing one (not to mention reducing the geographical footprint of a farm). However, there are dissenters. And the ever thoughtful Adam Stein of TerraPass is one of the most eloquent. This from his latest blog entry on the apparently "half-baked" concept of vertical farms:
"I'm as concerned about food as the next guy — scratch that, I'm more concerned about food than the next guy — which is why I find it somewhat dismaying to see a serious and complicated set of issues turned into a sort of fetish. I really don't know what other word to use to describe the notion of spending "hundreds of millions" of dollars to build weird, poorly sited temples of food production in areas much better suited to dense, green residential and retail space.

Brooklyn was once one of the most agriculturally productive regions in the United States. Manhattan was once home to innumerable factories. There's a reason that farms and factories decamped to more suitable locations. Using urban real estate in this manner is incredibly wasteful: bad for the economy and bad for the environment. Local food has its merits, but that's what New Jersey is for."

Adam's point that urban real estate is too valuable for farming makes a lot of sense, although with food and fuel prices rising the economics may change somewhat. Perhaps a partial answer lies in integrating food production with our built environment more intimately, so living roofs and other "vertical farming" spaces provide recreational or other services to residents living in buildings. Of course we're unlikely to ever feed the world with roof gardens.

Adam's ultimate contention that climate change and resource depletion will not be addressed by singular, futuristic, even "fetishistic" ideas, but then I doubt that any vertical farm advocate is claiming that they have "the answer". As Adam says, we need systemic changes that reprioritizes our resource use - namely carbon pricing. If fossil fuel users were paying a rate that truly reflected the environmental cost, you can be pretty sure that the market would separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to efficiently and effectively cutting our emissions. In the meantime though, you can hardly blame people for thinking outside the box.

::TerraPass::via site visit::

More on Vertical Farming
Vertical Farming: The Future of Agriculture
Diagonal Farming
View Forum Topic: Vertical Farming
Mithun Architects' Vertical Farm for Seattle
Vertical Farming is Already Here: Organitech

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