Sustainable America Blog

Farming in Skyscrapers

Dickson Despommier is a professor of public and environmental health at Columbia University and champion of a concept called vertical farming. The Economist covered Despommier’s view of vertical farming in 2010:

The idea is that skyscrapers filled with floor upon floor of orchards and fields, producing crops all year round, will sprout in cities across the world. As well as creating more farmable land out of thin air, this would slash the transport costs and carbon-dioxide emissions associated with moving food over long distances. It would also reduce the spoilage that inevitably occurs along the way.

In the following video, Despommier paints a seductive picture of cities filled with glass skyscrapers growing acres of fruits and vegetables for a population that has learned to live within its means.

Vertical farming has its critics. George Monbiot for one argues that the cost of such massive structures would make them financially impractical; that vertical farms could not, as Despommier claims, function without pesticides; and points out that floor upon floor of orchards and fields means that only the top floor gets direct natural sunlight, which would mean a huge electricity bill for year-round artificial light.

Whether you believe Despommier’s theories about vertical farming or not, he has had great success in capturing the imagination of a public discouraged by the current state of our industrial agricultural system. According to the UN around 70% of the world’s population will be living in urban areas by 2050. With those kinds of figures, urban farming is bound to remain an important concept. Who knows, with big dreams, a little luck, and some strategic planning, by 2050 there could be skyscraper greenhouses dotting skylines around the world.

Can We Farm in Skyscrapers? Dickson Despommier’s New Book Says Yes [Good Magazine]

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.

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