Sustainable America Blog


The future of farming might very well be up. With urban populations increasing and the reality that agriculture is stretched to its current limits of production, it is clear that we must find innovative new ways to produce food. We are also facing the issue of food miles, the distance that food currently travels from farm to plate and all the energy that’s needed for those distribution networks.

A Swedish-American company, Plantagon, was recently awarded the 2012 SACC New York-Deloitte Green Award for its innovative design of a 12-story triangular urban farm. This building, which broke ground last February, will be one of the tallest farms in the world once construction is completed.

Inside the Plantagon structure, plants will travel on tracks from the bottom floor up to the top and back to take advantage of optimum sunlight and make harvesting easier and more efficient. Plantagon plans to sell the produce at nearby farmers markets, minimizing food miles, and they will lease office space in the building for additional revenue.

They also plan to reduce operating energy use by creating biogas from the building’s own organic garbage. Down the line they are exploring the concept of a Planta-car – a vehicle that could run on the building’s organic compost.

This past July, the company expanded their reach into Asia, signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Tongi University in Shanghai to partner on research related to town-planning issues.

According to their website, Plantagon believes that by the year 2050 80% of the world will live in cities. Add to this the fact that today we are already using 80% of the earth’s arable land. If we continue to push farms further from expanding city centers, we will increase the distance food has to travel and the energy consumed in the process of that distribution. In light of these realities, the idea of urban greenhouses to feed the growing urban populations makes perfect sense.

Critics of the Plantagon model say that a model based on new construction is costly and requires scarce urban land for development. Some other options being proposed by innovative entrepreneurs include rooftop farming and farming inside shipping containers.

Sustainable America applauds the efforts of these and other entrepreneurs who are working to address America’s food insecurity and solve the problems around our current food/fuel nexus. As Plantagon eloquently states, “We need to create corporations built from a deep sense of responsibility for the common good.”

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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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