Vertical Farming Exposure

My final days as an undergraduate were spent completing a semester-long research project on vertical farming, so when I read a NY Times article titled, “Country, the City Version: Farms in the Sky Gain New Interest,” I almost fell out of my chair with excitement.

Here is a brief introduction to the subject, cited directly from my research:

Vertical farming is one of the more radical extensions of urban agriculture, still very much a conceptual idea that has less than a decade of research put into it. Also known as skyfarming, vertical farming is the brainchild of Dr. Dickson Despommier, professor of environmental sciences and microbiology at Columbia University. On a basic level, Dr. Despommier wants to bring large-scale agriculture directly to the cities, where most consumers and food markets are located. With the help of his Columbia students, he has theorized an initial plan to erect skyscrapers that would each take up a city block and grow enough food for 50,000 people a year. Given today’s technologies, his model is certainly attainable (sustainable energy and agricultural technologies are only becoming more cost efficient), and his extensive research yields data that illustrates not only environmental, self-sustainable advantages, but also financial profitability.

If you’re looking for a more humorous way to get acquainted:

A semester of research leads me to believe that the single most important factor (for vertical farming to work) lies in economic analysis. For vertical farming to be a sexy investment, it has to be economically justifiable. Despommier himself understands that his data is a bit optimistic, but I feel like he’s emphasizing the right message, simply that vertical farming is an inevitability. Investors will come as the idea gains more and more momentum. In an interview with CNN, Despommier concludes his thoughts:

So when you’re facing issues like this with a growing population in the world, I don’t know how else we can proceed, but up. There’s no where else to go.

The second most important factor – and the crux of my research – is location. In a city like Paris, vertical farming doesn’t make much sense. Building codes are strict, and since France already provides over 20% of the EU’s entire agricultural output (France is agriculturally self-sufficient), a vertical farm wouldn’t do much good. Erecting vertical farms in Hong Kong, however, could yield some real benefits. Rapid urban development has shifted farms away from cities, and currently the region can only produce enough agriculture product for 20% of its population.

And finally, for the entrepreneurs out there, let me finish by throwing out a quick business venture to think about : why not construct a much smaller vertical farm in a moderately sized city?

  • The same theories hold true, but economies of scale would make the project more economically feasible.
  • Each floor could be divided into plots of land that would be rented out to private investors, schools, religious organizations, you name it. This would generate a positive, community-based following.
  • The farm would host agricultural workshops, expert-led tours, perhaps even a restaurant, cafe, event space, or store.

With increased urban agricultural initiatives, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a model similar to this in the near future.

One thought on “Vertical Farming Exposure”

  1. The key is economics, economics, economics.

    I’d like to see some hard numbers that show how this type of model can function at a profit in the higher cost areas of a city compared to the very low costs associated with open field agricultural land.

    If it makes economic sense and can compete with existing sources of production, then why not.

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