The idea of farming indoors it not a new one, in fact the first modern greenhouses were constructed in Italy during the 13th century to house exotic plants that were brought back by explorers from the tropics. Farming in an urban area is also an old-time tradition. As early as the turn of the 20th century roof top gardens and in some cases even small animal farms, could be found atop the roofs of New York City apartments. With our population growing as fast as it is, getting food to the largest density of people (the urban cities) is proving to be both challenging and inefficient. Our current model of horizontal farming has taken its toll on our environment; it has lead to poor soil conditions, deforestation, and semi-arid deserts. Furthermore there has been research that has shown the effects of large scale farming and deforestation have had a significant impact on the ever-growing threat of climate change.
Dr. Dickson Despommier, a professor of environmental sciences and microbiology at Columbia University believes that the solution to our problem is “vertical farming.” Vertical farming is a term used to describe a building that would be used to grow food on a large scale indoors year round by using both clean energy (that the building itself will create) and recycled resources, such as hydroponic system. Furthermore by bringing the farm to the city it would reduce if not eliminate most of the energy that is currently used to ship farm raised products, as well as allow over farmed land to revert back to forests thus helping to fix our current climate issues.
Indoor farming has benefits other than reducing our carbon footprint as well. Crops that are grown indoors are not exposed to the same threats as those grown outdoors, such as animals and bugs, thus there would be almost no need for harmful pesticides to be used on plants. Furthermore the growing conditions for the plants can be controlled by computer, thus creating the optimal growing climate year round which would lead to greater crop yields without the use of genetically modified seeds, and almost no chance of massive crop failure.
The technology that would be used to in these “farmscrapers” is not only beneficial to the growing of crops, but rather to the environment as a whole. The building will be able to produce their own power, due to large wind turbines on the roof, as well as solar panels, and will even include their own water treatment facilities. Because the crops will be grown hydroponically, there is likely to be a loss of water from the system due to evaporation. This is no problem as evaporation recovery systems have already been designed. These systems will recover pure water which can then be sold, or put back into the system. Furthermore the hydroponic systems will operate off of “grey water” which is waste water that has been treated through filtration, but is not suitable for drinking, although it is suitable for irrigation.
Using electricity for heating a building as large as a proposed “farmscraper” is very inefficient, thus a pellet power system would be the heart of the facility. The pellets would be composed of both non-edible plant products as well as waste from restaurants. This would provide the building with enough energy power the entire building and then some. Excess energy could then be put back into the grid, or sold as clean power to neighboring buildings.
Although vertical farming sounds like a great solution to all our food problems, there is still much research needed to ensure all elements of the facility work together properly, this could take up to another 15 years in development, and millions of dollars. Most likely we will see the first vertical farms built in very wealthy nations such as Dubai, where private investors have the capital, but in the long run implementation in third world nations could greatly improve worldwide quality of life. The concept is still very young and more interest toward it would greatly improve its chances of working correctly and solving some of our major problems. The idea of a place where fruits and vegetables as well as small livestock can all be grown using renewable energy and leaving the smallest possible ecological foot print, really is the way of the future.