Vertical farms on Colbert Report

Stephen Colbert had Dickson Despommier, a Columbia professor of public health in environmental health sciences and the mastermind behind the Vertical Farm Project, Thursday to talk about highrise farming in urban areas. I'm really interested in this idea and have been hoping to write about it at length somewhere. In the meantime, Despommier makes a good case for why we ought to be funding at least a prototype version.

8 Responsesto “Vertical farms on Colbert Report”

  1. Mike says:

    I feel like this is a great idea. I live on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco and have several plants growing on my west facing porch. They seem to be growing well, but not as well as I'd like them to be. Being on a higher elevation, we are exposed to the wind (SF is overall windy when the fog starts to roll in anyway). How do these vertical farms plan on confronting this issue? I never hear any discussion about wind.

  2. hhoulahan says:

    The "vertical farm" idea depends on:
    1) Very expensive structures
    2) Hydroponics
    I got the overall impression that some of the impetus behind it was the old "dirt is dirty" squeam.
    I am unconvinced that growing food in a huge, expensive structure on high-rent urban land, using chemical soup instead of soil, has any advantage in terms of energy costs compared to growing the same species in soil a few miles out.  (Comparing to stuff shipped from Argentina is a red herring.)
    Not to mention, if you think a hydroponic tomato tastes like food, maybe this is not the right blog?
    Now, urban farms and garden projects that exploit "waste" land and build the soil in vacant lots -- that's another story.  There's a lot of space in a lot of cities that could be used to grow really good food instead of accumulating old tires and syringes.

    He was suggesting a tower on the lake in Chicago.  I was just there.  The wind was taking out mature, healthy trees at street level.  Lettuce on the 15th story would be confetti.

  3. I saw this in NYMag and thought the rendering of an architect's plan for a lot near Varick and Canal was intriguing. Water and wind issues are going to be issues, I assume, the architects would take into account. I recall years ago (I'm talking YEARS - back when I was in college) there was an Environmental Studies program and they built and lived in a back to the future green house. Recycled gray water was used to water the garden, etc. etc. So ahead of its time. Very good to bring these ideas up again.
    Jacqueline Church

  4. Sam Brace says:

    Did you see Eurofresh Farms indirectly mentioned? Dickson certainly got the farm's acreage wrong (it's much bigger than 40 acres) but it is a good model of hydroponics and greenhouse growth for vertical farmers to replicate in the vertical farms.

  5. Jackie says:

    I'm wondering how anything can be considered 'organic' when it's not growing in a natural environment.  Last time I looked plants need soil.  Sure, we can control their "diet" in hydroponics, but how natural is that?  Of course, if we trucked in dirt to fill these towers, then we'd have huge dirt-mines extracting (again) the natural resources of rural America.

    Next thing you know, we'll be the ones to whom they're feeding the 'organic' diet-controlled soup.  I mean, who needs food when we could just pump liquid "organic" nutrients into our bodies?

    Hmmn.  Food growing in water in concrete towers?  No thanks.

  6. Kat says:

    Please go to the web site on vertical farming and read the essays and studies.  According to Dr. Despommier, agriculture has destroyed the ecology of Earth, we will need another landmass the size of Brazil in 40 years to feed the people who will be populating the planet by that time, and we are at capacity now - there is NO MORE LAND for viable crop production.  When you over farm, you destroy the soil (did anyone read about the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression?).  Currently Brazil is experiencing a fertilizer shortage, specifically potassium, which is only leeched from the soil by plants, there is no plant which produces it.   (By the way, if you want NATURAL, the Earth's human population has to shrink to an estimated 1% of its current numbers.  Any volunteers?)
    Here's what I know: the average American grocery store holds about three days worth of food at any given time.  In large cities like Chicago, NY, and LA, grocery stores hold ONE DAY worth of food.  This food is brought to the stores in trucks, which are run by diesel fuel, which is way past $5.00/gallon right now, and rising.  This food is generally grown in another country; Mexico, Canada, and South America give us most of the produce we consume.  America used to feed the world, now it would take the world about one week to starve us out.  Gardens are going in like the Depression has begun, but how many gardens will feed how many people?  Right now in my neighborhood of about fifty houses, there are about four vegetable gardens.
    Vertical farming has the potential to feed EVERYONE fresh produce, ALL YEAR!  Imagine living in Chicago and having a peach ripe off the tree that morning, in January!  Imagine feeding those who are starving around the world even though their soil and/or climate won't allow for agriculture!  Imagine eating food NOT contaminated with pesticides or chemical grow agents!  Imagine if the farming industry wasn't crippled by flood or drought!  Imagine an industry who's "waste" is cleaner than what goes in and is totally self-sustaining!
    I love dirt and land, it's in my Irish blood.  But I love this Earth as part of that.  Everything we, as humans, have done to this planet has nearly destroyed it.  We could save it before it's too late this time, move forward before our own greed moves us back.   Unfortunately, as is sighted in the essay, every generation will hold on to what it is raised with even if it is an unhealthy situation.  I only hope that those who would rather rape a rain forest than eat food grown in water don't have to watch their children starve.

  7. Stephen says:

    I really want to see this project succeed because I think this is could be a solution to are rising food shortage…I am trying to get the first working tower built:

  8. Jackie says:

    Hi Kat, Thanks for your heartfelt reply, altho I don't know how suddenly I'm raping a rainforest because I'm queasy about food grown in water.  There are many, many ways to protect rainforests and rural lands that don't involve growing food in water.  And it's be much easier, much more energy efficient, and much tastier to convince more of your suburban neighbors to put in a garden than it would be to build huge concrete towers in the center of urban America.  A good-sized community garden, one per every square mile or so, would do a great deal to feed urban people good, healthy food.  Not to mention that community gardens go a long way towards building friendships and teaching people useful, energy and land-saving skills such as gardening, canning, cooking, etc.  One garden per suburban yard would do the same.  Sure, people in Chicago might not be able to eat a fresh peach grown in winter that way, but last time I looked we don't grow trees in a hydroponic system.   I do get your point, though.  Thankfully, if you subscribe to seasonal eating practices, you can already eat some wonderful, fresh food in the winter.  You may not get that fresh tomato in December, but then again if you want tomatoes in December, perhaps you shouldn't live in Chicago. Nothing happens in a vaccuum.  The nutrients that will be used to feed hydroponic plants have to come from somewhere.  They will come from rural lands, where nutrient farms would replace food farms.  In my mind, that's pretty much the same thing.  I'd be interested to see a concrete food tower put into practice,  I really would.  Only then could we really know the cost/benefit of the idea, and how effective (or not) they really are.  Let's build one and see.  (We could support Stephen in his efforts.)  But I don't want my food to be grown in organic soup.   Sorry.  And I remind everyone that it's downright unnatural.  Unfortunately, history has proven that the further we get from natural, the worse things get....for nature and for us.  Maybe this time.....?? Thanks, Jackie