Articles, Blog

Vertical Farming Explained, with Dickson Despommier

October 7, 2019

As of this moment WHO and the population counsel
estimate that about 50 percent of us live in cities. And the other half, of course,
lives somewhere else. The other thing we can learn from NASA of all places is how much
land those seven billion people, half urban, half rural, actually need to produce their
food every year. And it turns out to be a size of South America. So the size of South
America in land mass is used just to grow our crops that we plant and harvest. I’m not
talking about the herbivores like the cows and the goats and the sheep. So when you think about how much food is consumed
by cities, let’s say half, it takes half of the size of South America just to produce
it. Now if the human population continues to increase which we expect it will — so
over the next 40 years you might have three billion more people to feed. And you look
around for the land where that’s gonna come from in terms of traditional farms and you
don’t find it. It isn’t there. So the biggest problem facing us as a global species is where
will the food for the next three billion people come from? So it could come from someplace
other than a traditional farm and the question is, could vertical farming solve that problem.
So by vertical farming and a vertical farm I mean any building that grows food inside
of it or in which you grow food which is taller than a single story. There are many examples of vertical farms
out there which are not traditionally thought of as towering gardens of Eden so to speak
as the images on Google might suggest from some of the planners and designers that have
submitted their own visions of what they think a vertical farm should look like. Most of
those would satisfy the cover of any science fiction magazine I could think of and attract
a lot of attention and get people to ask well what is that building and what is it doing?
But we’re not pretty close to seeing those yet. I think those are gonna be expensive
and they’re gonna take a lot of rethinking with regards to urban planning. But we don’t
have to do that in order to have vertical farms already. There’s a vertical farm in Singapore. It’s
a brand new building. It looks like a greenhouse from the outside but it’s four stories tall.
But it’s a clever design. It uses traditional growing systems though. It uses soil based
potted plants on a series of conveyor belts which migrates the plants by gravity — some
kind of a grandfather clock like apparatus which actually moves this conveyor belt of
plants near the windows maybe once or twice an hour so that every plant gets the same
amount of sunlight during the day at least. Because it rains every day there’s certainly
no shortage of water for these plants either. And uses traditional fertilizer. And the guy
has moved from a 2,000 square foot operation to a 20,000 square foot operation the same. There’s a vertical farm that’s been on the
drawing board for a long time now. I’d say five years which is in the final planning
stages and about to dig a hole to make room for the foundation in Sweden. It’s called
Plantagon and Plantagon Corporation is a combination of private investors and the Onondaga Indians
of northern New York State. Hence the name Plantagon. And it’s a very altruistic group
of people. They want to show the world how to farm in another way so that indeed these
340,000 square miles of hardwood forest can start to be given back to nature and to perform
the job that they were originally selected for. And so I think they should have their
farm — it’s about a 14 story building that they’re planning. It’s a mixed use building
because it’s got offices on one side and a growing system across the entire façade of
the building on the other side of the building. So imagine yourself sitting at a conference
of some sort at 10:30 in the morning. It’s about time to go out and pick lunch. So everybody gets up from the table when the
meeting is over. They have their trays. They have their little bowls and they go and they
go up and down an elevator and they select tomatoes and cucumbers and zucchinis and all
kinds of green vegetables. And they come back and they sit at the commissary and have lunch.
Sounds like a fanciful science fiction like scene but you can already do that a Parsona02
in Tokyo. Pasona02 is a very interesting building. It was built in 2010. It is nine stories tall
and each floor has a different set of edible plants growing in it. And it’s not a building
dedicated just to growing food. In fact, the people inside are human resource oriented.
They help companies design retirement plans and benefit plans for hiring and stuff like
that. But indeed when they want to go to lunch they don’t have to leave the building. In
fact, they can even go down to the first floor and pick rice and bring it upstairs, winnow
it, the grains are then given to the chef. The chef then boils it up and makes then a
rice dish with the vegetables that they’ve already picked. For that kind of an operation you can’t get
better than that. I’m not at all privy to the energetics of how much energy it costs
for that building to operate. But I do know that the employees are extremely happy. So
vertical farming, I think, arising from an idea in 1999 in a classroom that I taught
to see where it’s come in the last let’s say 12 or 14 years has been remarkable. I would
say remarkable.


  • Reply Rajasekar Muthusamy May 29, 2014 at 8:51 am

    how about we can triple the yield and also farm on shallow waters?

  • Reply Apollo June 9, 2014 at 7:36 am

    Like a 3D chess game 🙂

  • Reply Michael Tinsley June 12, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    The real problem is changing our paradigms about how and where we get our food. Vertical Farming is the right way to go, but has lacked mainstream acceptance and appeal.  We have solved this problem. Visit Indiegogo/city-gardens-usa

  • Reply Jesse Meredith July 13, 2014 at 8:51 am

    Traditional farms have not worked efficiently since the Agricultural Revolution.  Monoculture is essentially genocide in controlled areas, and even grazing livestock (mainly sheep) destroy entire ecosystems which can contain some of the most nutritious vegetation known to mankind (research mineral contents of dandelion, dock and most wild herbaceous plants).  Why are all vertical farm designs above ground?  The technology to hydroponically grow plants with artificial light has existed for decades, so in theory, vertical farms could have no footprint whatsoever if built underneath land that is used for something else (solar panels, for instance).  Or even if people dedicated cellar space to the hydroponic production of all the vegetables they could ever need? 

  • Reply henkenheimer September 10, 2014 at 6:49 am

    thinks he not an herbivore?

  • Reply Gershon Wolf December 31, 2014 at 9:03 pm

    Read his book "The Vertical Farm" it's awesome!

  • Reply Gershon Wolf December 31, 2014 at 9:03 pm 

  • Reply Hugo - April 12, 2015 at 12:23 am

    How about not letting 3 more billion humans on earth ? instead of using GMO and overconsumption….

  • Reply Gershon Wolf July 3, 2015 at 4:18 pm

    Dickson! I want in! let's do it together! get in touch! Glen

  • Reply Nomadic Wolf June 13, 2016 at 12:48 am

    I can definitely see vertical farms in space stations in a few decades

  • Reply HydrangeaDragon August 7, 2016 at 9:32 am

    It would have an amazing effect on our environment if everyone just went vegan, and shopped vegetables grown in local vertical farms.

  • Reply Damian Santacruz February 28, 2017 at 2:37 am

    I think a few points to make this interest.

    1.- Be cheaper.
    2.-protect endemic plants and their reproduction.
    3.- vanish the use of pesticides near people or animals.

  • Reply KevZen2000 September 26, 2017 at 1:44 am

    Vertical farming, and genetic modified foods are the most efficient means to supplying food for the entire population, even if it grows to 10 billion.

  • Reply Lynda Murray February 11, 2019 at 4:57 pm

    YouTube The Zeitgeist Movement Moving Forward to see how we can transition from a monetary system to a natural law resource based economy!

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