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Sierra Club: Two models for rooftop agriculture vie to feed the Big Apple

Ben Flanner of Brooklyn Grange. Photo by JJ Sulin.

“Which model will prevail, Gotham or Grange? I can’t help thinking that Gotham has the upper hand.”

By David Ferris
Sierra Club Magazine
Nov/Dec. 2012


The next step in the evolution of urban agriculture may be vertical farms, multistory greenhouses illuminated by a combination of sunshine and artificial light. If built on a sufficient scale, they could make a sizable contribution to the world’s food supply. Stackable farms are already up and running in Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Chicago.

One threat to the uniformity of hydroponics is that disease in one plant can quickly infect an entire crop. To avoid spreading pathogens, says Dickson Despommier, a vertical farming specialist and a professor at Columbia University, workers might be required to shower and don sterile uniforms before reporting to the grow room.

Gotham Greens’ single-story facility isn’t that rigorous—it has roughly the same sanitary standards as a commercial kitchen—but it does strictly limit its visitors. A hydroponic farm can grow lots of produce, but it will never be a place where just anyone can lend a hand.

Which model will prevail, Gotham or Grange? I can’t help thinking that Gotham has the upper hand. It’s easy to imagine enormously productive, industrial-scale greenhouses multiplying across America’s roofscapes like so many Walmarts, feeding far more people than the quirky, community-friendly farm over at the Grange ever will.

But I hope that every city gets the chance for a Grange or two, where fairytale eggplants take root above the mad traffic, and the office drones know that rows of sunflowers nod just overhead.

Read the complete article here.