Vertical Farms Aren't Going to Solve Our Food Problems

Vertical (Diagonal?) Farm from Work AC in NYC

TreeHugger has been dining on vertical farms since Mike first wrote about them back in 2005. We have not been entirely uncritical of them, even calling them Pie in the Sky.

Stan Cox and David Van Tassel go a lot further in an article published in Alternet. They write: "Although the concept has provided opportunities for architecture students and others to create innovative, sometimes beautiful building designs, it holds little practical potential for providing food."A vertical farm
Vertical Farms Get the New York Times Treatment

The authors note that "horizontal farming", or traditional agriculture, exposes plants to "the most plentiful and ecologically benign energy source of all: sunlight." Vertical farms, particularly those promoted by Desmond Despommier (TreeHugger here)

For obvious reasons, no one has ever proposed stacking solar photovoltaic panels one above the other. For the same reasons, crop fields cannot be layered one above the other without providing a substitute for the sunlight that has been cut off....As a result, the lion's share of a vertical farm's lighting would have to be supplied artificially, consuming resource-intensive electricity rather than free sunlight. This led us to wonder, "What would be the consequences of a vertical-farming effort large enough to allow us to remove from the landscape, say, the United States' 53 million acres of wheat?"...Our calculations, based on the efficiency of converting sunlight to plant matter, show that just to meet a year's U.S. wheat production with vertical farming would, for lighting alone, require eight times as much electricity as all U.S. utilities generate in an entire year [see calculations here].

One wag had a solution to that problem: "What about vertical nuclear energy? We could stack reactors in skyscrapers alongside the farming skyscrapers, to provide the electricity!"

The authors conclude that we don't have to farm vertically, but we do have to change the way we do it horizontally.

Harvest Green: Vertical Farm by Romses Architects wins Competition

The solution to soil and water degradation is not to strip food-producing plants from the landscape only to grow them, deprived of sunlight, in vertical factory farms. Instead, we have to address the Achilles heel of agriculture itself: that it has displaced, on a massive scale, diverse stands of natural perennial vegetation (such as prairies, savannahs, and forests) with monocultures of ephemeral, weakly rooted, soil-damaging annual crops such as corn, soybean, and wheat. So far, the weaknesses of the current food-production system have been compensated for agronomically through greater and greater inputs of fossil fuels and other resources, worsening the ecological impact; vertical farming would extend that trend.

Worth reading in Alternet., who got it from Synthesis/Regeneration

More on Treehugger:
Futurama Farming in New York
Vertical Farming - The Future of Agriculture?
Mithun Architects' Vertical Farm for Seattle
Vertical (Diagonal?) Farm from Work AC in NY : TreeHugger
Sky Farm Proposed for Downtown Toronto
Vertical Farms Get the New York Times Treatment

Tags: Agriculture | Farming | Food Miles | Green Building | Urban Planning

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