Living above the land

There was an Op-Ed in the New York Times on August 23 by Dickson D. Despommier: A Farm on Every Floor. Dr. Despommier is Professor of Public Health in Environmental Health Sciences (and Microbiology) at Columbia University. One of his interests is vertical farming, as can be found on his website The Vertical Farm Project. The op-ed is brimming with enthusiasm that I heartily share.
The idea is not just cool from a what-if sci-fi standpoint. It’s the only way that humans can produce enough food in urban areas (where 60% of humans live, according to the VF website) without resorting to shipping food in from rural areas as we currently do. Vertical farming will make a varied diet available year round in cities with low input and little to no environmental degradation. It’s certainly far from the idyllic vision of farming that some people have, but it is not possible to feed the world that way (especially impossible without chemical heavy intensive farming) – unless everyone moves out of the cities and there is a massive population decrease.
“The Living Skyscraper: Farming the Urban Skyline” by Blake Kurasek, Graduate School of Architecture, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, image from the Vertical Farm Project.The VF website includes many concept drawings of exactly how vertical farms could be implemented. My favorite simply wraps tiers around skyscrapers. People can live and work inside this living insulation.
Vertical farming also has the potential to bring many people into agriculture. On the VF site, Dr. Despommier describes a visit to a 4th grade class in 2006. They sent him letters thanking him for his visit, and are just full of enthusiasm. How many of those children were inspired to pursue careers that don’t even yet exist? Hopefully many.
The idea of vertical farms is dear to my heart. Growing up in the heart of Tampa, Florida didn’t give me many opportunities to interact with agriculture. However, I did get to go to Epcot in Orlando pretty frequently. My favorite part of the park was and still is The Land, particularly the Living with the Land ride. The ride takes you through different ecosystems around the world before showing you what I think is the masterpiece of Epcot: a massive hydroponic greenhouse. One of the best parts of my honeymoon was a behind the scenes tour of the greenhouses, research labs, and aquaculture tanks. All this talk of Epcot reminds me that I really should try to apply for an internship as a research scientist there (believe it or not, they have a few), and attempt to fulfil a childhood dream.
h/t Drake Larsen via the ISU Sus Ag mailing list