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Vertical Urban Farms

As the dual challenges and increasing urban populations and food security / supply align with the desire to minimise transportation costs and impacts for foods, one possibility for the future that is gaining increasing attention is that of vertical urban farms. Having been discussed for a few years now, many see that the time for the first prototypes at scale in on the horizon and, that be 2020, vertical farms will be a common feature in many urban environments.


One of the chief proponents of vertical farms is Dickson Despommier – Professor of Public Health at Columbia University. As explained on his site:


“The concept of indoor farming is not new, since hothouse production of tomatoes, a wide variety of herbs, and other produce has been in vogue for some time. What is new is the urgent need to scale up this technology to accommodate another 3 billion people. An entirely new approach to indoor farming must be invented, employing cutting edge technologies. The Vertical Farm must be efficient (cheap to construct and safe to operate). Vertical farms, many stories high, will be situated in the heart of the world’s urban centers. If successfully implemented they offer the promise of urban renewal, sustainable production of a safe and varied food supply (year-round crop production), and the eventual repair of ecosystems that have been sacrificed for horizontal farming.”


A vertical farm would behave like a functional ecosystem, in which waste was recycled and the water used in hydroponics and aeroponics was recaptured by dehumidification and used over and over again. The technologies needed to create a vertical farm are currently being used in controlled-environment agriculture facilities but have not been integrated into a seamless source of food production in urban high-rise buildings.


Beginning from a research project, the concept of vertical farms is now starting to get some mainstream attention from publications including Time Magazine and the NY Times and the Mayor of Manhattan is reportedly considering co-funding a $30m prototype.

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