Next American City spoke with Despommier about what vertical farms would mean for cities and for the globe.
Meet Farming’s Future
By Hamida Kinge
Feb 19th, 2009
Next American City
The way skeptics see it, Dickson Despommier has a lot of explaining to do: He’s got big plans for the future of farming. By 2050, the planet will have to feed three billion additional mouths, and traditional farms, which threaten food security by deforestation, the use of fossil fuels and ecosystem destruction, will not be able to hack it. Dr. Despommier, an environmental health scientist at Columbia University, believes the answer lies in the vertical farm, a glass-walled structure that can be designed as tall as a typical skyscraper, and can be located inside city bounds or around city limits.
It sounds quixotic at first, and Despommier readily admits that there is much he cannot answer until he secures funding to build a prototype. But he asserts that every process used in a vertical farm, from the agricultural to the mechanical, has been implemented in some capacity elsewhere, so there are no new mechanics or science involved. Still, vertical farms would be incredibly complex to build and operate, and consequently carry an enormous price tag, which is the main complaint of critics. The farms would also require accessory structures, like labs and seedling nurseries. Despommier intends the energy used by a vertical farm to be self-generating: Plant and waste-water solids would be incinerated to generate electricity. The host city’s gray water would be remediated and infused with nutrients to grow crops, a soil-less process called hydroponics. If the gray water plan works, it could save a city like New York – which dumps a billion gallons of remediated gray water into the Hudson each day – a lot of water and, consequently, a lot of money.