Fix Our Horizontal Farms Before We Go Vertical

oliver foster vertical farm image

Oliver Foster's O2 Vertical Farm

Duncan Graham-Rowe of the Guardian looks at the issue of vertical farms and finds that it grows on him. He calls it a "beguilingly simple idea: make maximum use of a small amount of space by filling glass houses with plant beds stacked high one above the other." In fact it is anything but.

diagonal farming new york model image

Maybe diagonal farming makes more sense.

Graham-Rowe says "Financial and environmental pressures on modern agriculture have sparked new interest in vertical farming. With global population expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, competition for land to grow both food and energy crops will become increasingly fierce."


Valcent Vertical Farm

He looks at one of the success stories of vertical farming, the Valcent Verticrop system. (Sami noted that its Vertical Farming System Among Best Inventions of 2009.) The verticrop system can increase yields by up to 20 times normal production and use only 5% of the water.

Proponents of vertical farms note that it saves a lot of fuel now spent on tractors and transport. The coordinator of Sustain, a food and farming cooperative, tells Graham-Rowe:

"Intensive agriculture is currently entirely dependent on fossil fuels, from its use of nitrogen-based fertilisers to mechanical equipment, transport and refrigeration - and so urban agriculture really makes a lot of sense". In particular, Longfield sees "great potential for perishables that don't travel well".

chicago roof farm

Green Roofs Are So Last Year; Rooftop Farms Are The Growing Thing

We have seen tremendous growth in urban and rooftop farming, and many think that it shows great promise; it is putting people to work in Detroit and other cities, and rooftops are being put to work in New York City and other cities around the world.

But many are dubious about the next step, the massive vertical farms envisioned by Dr. Dickson Despommier that Graham-Rowe looks at uncritically. (See Adam Stein on Vertical Farms: "Pie in the Sky" and Vertical Farms Aren't Going to Solve Our Food Problems)

dragonfly urban farm roosevelt island image

He tops it all off with a tip of the hat to Vincent Callebaut's Dragonfly on Roosevelt Island in New York, one of the silliest, most overwrought jump-the-shark vertical farm ideas presented anywhere, admiring its "lush, fertile interiors that function as self-contained, sustainable eco-systems, producing food for their residents."

Vertical farming is an interesting meme, and there is some very interesting work being done. (See Weber Thompson and Chris Hardwicke) Yet millions of acres of agricultural land in North America and Britain have been taken out of production, their output replaced with imports from nations with lower labour costs and more sunlight. The economic pressures on urban land are a lot greater than those on farmland. Millions of acres of flat roofs and suburban lawns are sitting there, waiting to be planted.

apple picking medina new york

A hundred years ago, New York City was fed by upstate New York and neighbouring New Jersey, through its fabulous network of rail, river and canal. None of that infrastructure went away. Most of that land went back to forest after being abandoned. Surely it makes more sense to fix the horizontal farm before we build the vertical.

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