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The Vertical Farm: The World Grows Up by…

The Vertical Farm: The World Grows Up

by Dickson Despommier

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Dickson presents a reasonable concept of large scale hydroponics. He spends a great deal of time providing a history lesson and presenting why this would be a good idea. He spends less but some time presenting how this might be done. Basically his ideas on how this might come to be seem somewhat naive. I suspect that eventually vertical farming will become financially feasible, but until then it will not be taken seriously. I mildly recommend the book. ( )
  GlennBell | Apr 17, 2012 |
The current method of human agriculture is in bad shape, and is ultimately unsustainable. This book provides an alternative.

Agriculture as we know it has worked for many thousands of years, but the system is breaking down. If there is such a thing as The Chronicle of Farm Life in the 20th Century, it is "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck. Three things that had a huge impact on agriculture were the internal combustion engine, and the discoveries of oil and dynamite. When irrigating fields, runoff is created that is full of chenicals and fertilizers applied to those fields. During floods, runoff gets even worse, because that chemical-filled water gets into the rivers, which empty into the ocean, creating aquatic "dead zones." In less developed countries, there is little or no attempt to filter or treat the water, and since fecal matter (human and animal) is frequently used as fertilizer, that just spreads lots of intestinal parasites. In many places, a 55-gallon drum of clean water is now more valuable than oil.

Greenhouse gases are turning the world's oceans more acidic; the time will come when calcium carbonate, a central component of coral and mollusk shells, cannot form. Various bugs and plant diseases can also do immense damage to a wide area of crops. As agriculture becomes more commercialized, and farm sizes grow, food safety becomes a huge concern. Corporations want to cut costs wherever they can (like food inspection), and consumers have made it clear that food safety is at the top of the list.

Imagine stacking several high-tech greenhouses on top of each other. Hydroponic gardening, which uses one-third the water of regular agriculture, is well known. Aeroponic gardening, where the roots are misted at the right times, uses one-third the water of hydroponics. The water can be treated and recycled so that it can be used over and over. No artificial chemicals would be needed. Such a vertical farm can be built in the city, vastly increasing the availability of fruits and vegetable for inner-city residents. The outer walls would be a type of clear, hard plastic, which is lighter than glass, to let in every available bit of sunlight. The corresponding amount of farmland would be allowed to turn back into whatever it was, usually hardwood forest, before it became farmland.

Of course, theory is easy, while turning the theory into reality is much harder. This a fascinating book, even though it is light on the reality of what a vertical farm would look like. If it does nothing more than get people thinking about other methods of agriculture, this is a gem of a book. ( )
  plappen | Aug 17, 2011 |
What happens when we put the last arable acre of land into cultivation? Is that it? Do we then hope for another green revolution to continue feeding the world's billions? No problems. We just start skyscraper farming. We don't even need dirt-dammit. We''ll employ hydroponics (bathing the plant roots in a nutrient bath) or aeroponics (spray-misting the plant roots with nutrient spray). Hydroponics uses 70% less water than traditional agriculture and aeroponics uses 70% less water than hydroponics.

The food production is just the start. These vertical farms will recycle grey water and black water, generate power from the incineration of plant waste (think plasma arc gasification) which will reduce waste to its constituent molecules, and harvest water from dehumidification. Every urban center gets one or several thus cutting way down on food miles. Is a swarm of locusts heading for your farm? Just close the damn windows until they disappear. Try doing that with your old-fashioned level land farm. The vertical farm can be partitioned off into isolated zones if pathogens invade certain crops. If the crop is ruined it can be destroyed and the next one started tomorrow. No need to wait for spring planting. Are we on the road to food utopia yet? Almost, fish, chickens, and other meats could be 'grown' in these also. Probably not cows though.

Actually, no vertical farms exist yet. This is still a paper idea. Hydroponics works but will stacked hydroponic farms work? Some of these ideas sound plausible but I'm sure unforeseen problems will come up, as will unintended consequences. There's also the question of where the capital will come from. Farming is subsidized almost everywhere in the world and those practices are entrenched and hard to change. Farming isn't exactly the most profitable endeavor worldwide. There are some intriguing ideas in this book and I'm sure some efforts will be made in the development of such farms. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. The Middle East could be where some of the first ones are tried.

The skeptic in me was generating all kinds of calamity scenarios for vertical farms. Such as- a reporter on the scene of a collapsed vertical farm describing the huge mess created by the disaster. 'It was horrific. Blood and smashed tomato juice running unchecked into the streets.' But, I'm not a total skeptic- I think some form of vertical farming could produce more benefits than liabilities. ( )
2 vote VisibleGhost | Feb 23, 2011 |
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Book description
A general overview of the vertical farm concept. Not a technical treatise; for more technical information you will need to look elsewhere, but the reference section is fairly comprehensive. The author has a website dedicated to the same topic at: http://www.verticalfarm.com.
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When the author, a Columbia professor, set out to solve America's food, water, and energy crises, he didn't just think big, he thought up. His stroke of genius, the vertical farm, has excited scientists, architects, and politicians around the globe. These multi-story intensely managed indoor farms, grown inside skyscrapers, are capable of producing traditional greenhouse crops, as well as pigs and fowl, year-round. They would provide solutions to many of the serious problems the world is facing.… (more)

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