Urban Farming Gets Vertical

Urban Farming Gets Vertical
Scott Lachut, PSFK Labs
  • 17 december 2008

We’ve been aware of vertical farming for a little while now, but whereas previously it only existed in theory, we’re finally beginning to see some fledging real world examples bringing the underlying principles to life.

Understanding the environmental impact of the way our food is grown and distributed, along with the future demands for feeding the rising population of our planet, the vertical farming model offers a simple, yet radical solution that attempts to address many of these issues – instead of bringing the food to the city, we can bring the cities to the food.  This idea goes far beyond rooftop gardens, endeavoring to build skyscrapers located in the heart of urban centers dedicated to the cultivation of our food.  

Columbia University Professor Dickson Despommier, the mastermind behind the revolutionary concept, realizes that developing these projects on such a grand scale will for the time being at least, be cost prohibitive, but that doesn’t dissuade him from pushing his vision forward.  Apart from causing us to rethink traditional modes of agriculture and the ways we utilize space, in order for vertical farming to be viable, it requires innovations in the areas of construction, irrigation, alternative energy and recycling to name a few.

To that end, Time points us to an El Paso company that is putting some of these ideas into practice, albeit on a smaller scale:

“Vertical farming could allow food to be grown locally and sustainably,” says Glen Kertz, CEO of Valcent, a tech company based in El Paso, Texas, that’s trying out the process. His firm uses hydroponic greenhouse methods to grow upward rather than out. The result saves space–vital in urban areas–and allows farmers to irrigate and fertilize with far less waste.

At Valcent’s El Paso lab, potted crops grow in rows on clear vertical panels that rotate on a conveyor belt. Moving them gives the plants the precise amount of light and nutrients needed, an optimization that Kertz says lets him grow 15 times as much lettuce per acre as on a normal farm, using 5% of the water that conventional agriculture does. The company aims to finish a commercial-scale facility by early 2009.

Time: Vertical Farming


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