The Farmer in the High-Rise

Growing food in skyscrapers? Some scientists say it’s possible. By Alisa Opar

in the next 50 years, the U.N. estimates the world’s population will reach roughly nine billion people, and the vast majority will live in cities. Feeding those hungry mouths, experts say, will require clearing an additional ten billion hectares for farming—that’s an area roughly the size of Brazil. But Dickson Despommier, a microbiologist at Columbia University, doesn’t believe that chopping down the world’s forests to make new farmland is the answer to easing potential food shortages. Instead, he wants to bring farming to the places where most consumers and supermarkets are—namely, cities. Forget community gardens and the occasional greenhouse; Despommier and a team of his students propose farming in skyscrapers, or “vertical farms.” They envision 30-story buildings that each take up a city block and grow enough food for 50,000 people per year.

“It’s not just a way of generating food,” says Despommier. “It’s a way of dealing with municipal waste, recycling water, and using methane digestion to help a city be sustainable.” According to his scheme, both animal and plant life could thrive indoors. Fish such as tilapia, trout, and striped bass would live in the pond on the ground floor, while fruits and vegetables would be grown hydroponically, without the use of soil, on upper floors. Wastewater from the fish tanks would be transported to the basement where, along with drain water from showers and sinks, it would be treated and then used to fill the fishponds and hydroponic tanks. Water containing human wastes and other organic material would pass through a methane reactor to create energy to power the building. With no need for pesticides or food transportation, and the ability to produce multiple crops in a season (six corn harvests, for example, instead of one), the vertical farm sounds like an eco-cornucopia.

Although this smacks of science fiction, industries operating on a similar principle are already up and running. In 2001, the Dutch agriculture minister supported building a vertical farm in Rotterdam called Deltapark, in response to flooding farmland, livestock diseases such as swine fever, and growing agricultural pollution. Though the park hasn’t been built, the idea of linking several industries together to reduce the environmental burden of agriculture has become increasingly popular, says Jan Broeze, the Wageningen University scientist who dreamed up Deltapark. “If you cluster various activities, like greenhouses, fish farming, and manure processing, then you create a sufficient scale for more sustainable food production,” says Broeze, who is working with a group of farmers in Holland to link a chicken farm, a manure processing system, and greenhouses. “The idea is to use wastes from one industry to sustain another.”

In the U.S., however, the idea has generated interest but not capital. “The problem is that nobody wants to be first,” says Despommier. “I think this will arise when someone realizes that they can make a lot of money.” He compares the vertical farm to the hybrid car, which “now everybody is producing. They aren’t doing it for the sake of the environment; they’re doing it to make money.”

Vertical farms will likely become more economically viable in the coming years, according to John Ikerd, an agricultural economist at the University of Missouri-Columbia. “There will be even greater economic opportunities in the future, as the prices of industrial foods rise, markets for local and sustainably produced foods grow, and production systems for vertical farms become more efficient through research and practical experience,” he says.

Meanwhile, Despommier and his students are refining their design by incorporating new technology. For example, aeroponic technology—plants grown in an enclosed, sterile chamber that retains mist and heat—grows plants faster than either hydroponic technology or plain old soil. And using windows coated with titanium oxide, which breaks down dirt and causes water to form sheets (instead of droplets) would clean the panes as they flowed down the surface.

Despite the environmental benefits, Angela Caudle, executive director of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement, is not convinced that vertical farming is the way to achieve sustainability. “The technological solution distracts from our human connection to agriculture and food production,” she says. “I can appreciate an attempt to find sustainable ways to deal with producing more food for more people, but for me this is kind of like laboratory food.”

Others, however, would be keen on buying the food. “We’re trying to buy as local as possible, and you can’t get much more local than that,” says Allen Zimmerman, produce buyer for the Brooklyn-based Park Slope Food Co-op, which has more than 12,000 members.

For now, the vertical farm is “a think piece,” says Despommier. There are still enormous obstacles to overcome, including cost and what he terms “political lull.” The answer, he suggests, is to get the G-8 nations to pool their resources, or a foundation to provide the initial funding for a vertical farm in a country where it’s desperately needed. After that, Despommier believes the idea will take off. “The pieces all exist out there, they just need to be put together,” he says. “Then, the waste streams could turn into profit streams.”


overpopulation is the future nemesis. The national haves and the no nationals starvation that is the present for more of the future same intensified.

Put me on your email list, please.

It doesn't take a scientist to know that vertical farms are possible. With aqua-,hydro- and aeroponics and you can grow nearly anything. We are much farther away from this development than the article states. Depending on a government system to supply food in this way leads to collapse. The only way a viable option could become available is when the market deems it profitable enough for private investors to create this kind of thing. Until it becomes unprofitable to tear down forests for farmland you won't see this develop. Or do you really want to pay $8 a pound for tomatoes and bibb lettuce?

I designed this particular vertical farm...and it's really more of a concept rendering. We're working on a new design.

The Vertical Farm will be critical to the survival of the human race. We are blind to the impact of global warming but if the world is not willing to see the need to reduce CO2, how do we as individuals drive change? This is one way to produce the crops we need, reduce the CO2 emissions and allow the world to grow. As the climate is quickly changing we face drought already, and in the next 10 year we will need these "vertical farms" to support our current populations. I don't want to wait for the government to react too late, I want to act now!

Energy Independence begins with Energy efficiency - It's cheaper to save energy than to make energy

Updated October 9, 2007
By Jay Draiman, Energy Consultant

Today’s energy industry is perhaps the world’s most powerful. Energy is the basis of all this world’s wealth, and for perhaps earth’s entire history, the sun’s energy has fueled all ecological and economic systems. If early humans did not learn to exploit new sources of energy, humankind would still be living in the tropical forests. Without the continual exploitation of new energy sources, there would have been no civilization, no Industrial Revolution and no looming global catastrophe.

In order to insure energy and economic independence as well as better economic growth without being blackmailed by foreign countries, our country, the United States of America’s Utilization of Energy Sources must change.
"Energy drives our entire economy.” We must protect it. "Let's face it, without energy the whole economy and economic society we have set up would come to a halt. So you want to have control over such an important resource that you need for your society and your economy." The American way of life is not negotiable.
Our continued dependence on fossil fuels could and will lead to catastrophic consequences..

The federal, state and local government should implement a mandatory renewable energy installation program for residential and commercial property on new construction and remodeling projects, replacement of appliances, motors, HVAC with the use of energy efficient materials-products, mechanical systems, appliances, lighting, insulation, retrofits etc. The source of energy must be by renewable energy such as Solar-Photovoltaic, Geothermal, Wind, Biofuels, Ocean-Tidal, Hydrogen-Fuel Cell etc. This includes the utilizing of water from lakes, rivers and oceans to circulate in cooling towers to produce air conditioning, increase the use of outside air for ventilation and cooling (which also reduces indoor pollution and healthier), and the utilization of proper landscaping to reduce energy consumption. (Sales tax on renewable energy products and energy efficiency should be reduced or eliminated) (Construct new transmission lines and renewable energy zones) (We should also utilize solar energy for ocean water desalinization to alleviate the increasing water shortages – the scientists are claiming ocean levels are elevating – population, economic advancement and technology are increasing which increases demand)

The implementation of mandatory renewable energy could be done on a gradual scale over the next 10 years. At the end of the 10 year period all construction and energy use in the structures throughout the United States must be 100% powered by renewable energy. (This can be done by amending building code)

In addition, the governments must impose laws, rules and regulations whereby the utility companies must comply with a fair “NET METERING” (the buying of excess generation from the consumer at market price), including the promotion of research and production of “renewable energy technology” with various long term incentives and grants. The various foundations in existence should be used to contribute to this cause.

A mandatory time table should also be established for the automobile industry to gradually produce an automobile powered by renewable energy. The American automobile industry is surely capable of accomplishing this task. As an inducement to buy hybrid automobiles (sales tax should be reduced or eliminated on American manufactured automobiles).

This is a way to expedite our energy independence and economic growth. (This will also create a substantial amount of new jobs). It will take maximum effort and a relentless pursuit of the private, commercial and industrial government sectors’ commitment to renewable energy – energy generation (wind, solar, hydro, biofuels, geothermal, energy storage (fuel cells, advance batteries), energy infrastructure (management, transmission) and energy efficiency (lighting, sensors, automation, conservation) (rainwater harvesting, water conservation) (energy and natural resources conservation) in order to achieve our energy independence.

For the benefit of mankind, maintain the quality of life and preserve the tranquility of world population. Water resources must be preserved to sustain humanity. We should utilize solar and or other source of renewable energy to operate desalinization projects from the oceans. As world population increases the scarcity of water will become a cause for conflict, unless we take steps now to develop other sources of water for drinking, rainwater harvesting and graywater utilization.
To preserve the future generations sustainability, we should look into urban farming – vertical farming. The term "urban farming" may conjure up a community garden where locals grow a few heads of lettuce. But some academics envision something quite different for the increasingly hungry world of the 21st century: a vertical farm that will do for agriculture what the skyscraper did for office space. Greenhouse giant: By stacking floors full of produce, a vertical farm could rake in $18 million a year.
I believe what America needs are cool headed government leaders who understand how markets function and can work with consumers, voters and oil industry leaders to develop a viable energy strategy that will help and not hinder as our nation transitions to our new energy reality.
"To succeed, you have to believe in something with such a passion that it becomes a reality."

Jay Draiman, Energy Consultant
Northridge, CA. 91324
October 9, 2007

P.S. I have a very deep belief in America's capabilities. Within the next 10 years we can accomplish our energy independence, if we as a nation truly set our goals to accomplish this.

I happen to believe that we can do it. In another crisis--the one in 1942--President Franklin D. Roosevelt said this country would build 60,000 [50,000] military aircraft. By 1943, production in that program had reached 125,000 aircraft annually. They did it then. We can do it now.

"The way we produce and use energy must fundamentally change."
The American people resilience and determination to retain the way of life is unconquerable and we as a nation will succeed in this endeavor of Energy Independence.

The Oil Companies should be required to invest a substantial percentage of their profit in renewable energy R&D and implementation. Those who do not will be panelized by the public at large by boy cutting their products.

Solar energy is the source of all energy on the earth (excepting volcanic geothermal). Wind, wave and fossil fuels all get their energy from the sun. Fossil fuels are only a battery which will eventually run out. The sooner we can exploit all forms of Solar energy (cost effectively or not against dubiously cheap FFs) the better off we will all be. If the battery runs out first, the survivors will all be living like in the 18th century again.

Every new home built should come with a solar package. A 1.5 kW per bedroom is a good rule of thumb. The formula 1.5 X's 5 hrs per day X's 30 days will produce about 225 kWh per bedroom monthly. This peak production period will offset 17 to 2

4 cents per kWh with a potential of $160 per month or about $60,000 over the 30-year mortgage period for a three-bedroom home. It is economically feasible at the current energy price and the interest portion of the loan is deductible. Why not?

Title 24 has been mandated forcing developers to build energy efficient homes. Their bull-headedness put them in that position and now they see that Title 24 works with little added cost. Solar should also be mandated and if the developer designs a home that solar is impossible to do then they should pay an equivalent mitigation fee allowing others to put solar on in place of their negligence. (Installation should be paid “performance based”).

Installation of renewable energy and its performance should be paid to the installer and manufacturer based on "performance based" (that means they are held accountable for the performance of the product - that includes the automobile industry). This will gain the trust and confidence of the end-user to proceed with such a project; it will also prove to the public that it is a viable avenue of energy conservation.

Installing a renewable energy system on your home or business increases the value of the property and provides a marketing advantage. It also decreases our trade deficit.

Nations of the world should unite and join together in a cohesive effort to develop and implement MANDATORY RENEWABLE ENERGY for the sake of humankind and future generations.

The head of the U.S. government's renewable energy lab said Monday (Feb. 5) that the federal government is doing "embarrassingly few things" to foster renewable energy, leaving leadership to the states at a time of opportunity to change the nation's energy future. "I see little happening at the federal level. Much more needs to happen." What's needed, he said, is a change of our national mind set. Instead of viewing the hurdles that still face renewable sources and setting national energy goals with those hurdles in mind, we should set ambitious national renewable energy goals and set about overcoming the hurdles to meet them. We have an opportunity, an opportunity we can take advantage of or an opportunity we can squander and let go,"

Solar energy - the direct conversion of sunlight with solar cells, either into electricity or hydrogen, faces cost hurdles independent of their intrinsic efficiency. Ways must be found to lower production costs and design better conversion and storage systems.

Disenco Energy of the UK has announced it has reached important
milestones leading to full commercialization, such as the completion of
field trials for its home, micro combined heat and power plant (m-CHP).
The company expects to begin a product roll out in the second quarter of
Operating at over 90 percent efficiency, the m-CHP will be able to
provide 15 kilowatts of thermal energy (about 50,000 Btu’s) for heat and
hot water and generate 3 kilowatts of electricity. The m-CHP uses a
Stirling engine generator and would be a direct replacement for a home’s
Running on piped-in natural gas the unit would create some independence
from the power grid, but still remain connected to the gas supply
Whereas heat is supplied only when the generator is running (or
conversely electricity is generated only when heat is needed) a back-up
battery system and heavily insulated hot water storage tank seem
eventual options for more complete energy independence.

All government buildings, Federal, State, County, City etc. should be mandated to be energy efficient and must use renewable energy on all new structures and structures that are been remodeled/upgraded.
"The government should serve as an example to its citizens"

A new innovative renewable energy generating technology is in development. The idea behind Promethean Power came from Matthew Orosz, an MIT graduate student who has worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in the African nation of Lesotho. Orosz wanted to provide electric power, refrigeration, and hot water to people without electricity. He and some MIT colleagues designed a set of mirrors that focus sunlight onto tubes filled with coolant. The hot coolant turns to pressurized vapor, which turns a turbine to make electricity. The leftover heat can be used to warm a tank of water and to run a refrigerator or an air conditioner, using a gas-absorption process that chills liquid ammonia by first heating it.
New Solar Electric Cells - 80% efficient
Mr. Marks says solar panels made with Lepcon or Lumeloid, the materials he patented, ... Most photovoltaic cells are only about 15 percent efficient. ...
A major increase in daily petroleum output is deemed essential to meet U.S. and international oil requirements in 2020, and so we should expect recurring oil shortages and price increases. Only by expediting the diminishing our day-to-day consumption of petroleum and implementing of efficiency and renewable energy policy can we hope to reduce our exposure to costly oil-supply disruptions and lower the risk of economic strangulation.
Quick Facts
 Energy is vital to every sector of the U.S. economy. As our economy grows, the demand for energy rises.

 Total energy consumption is projected to increase 35 percent by 2030.

 Energy-efficiency improvements have played a major role in meeting national energy needs since the 1970s, relative to new supply.
ULTRACAPACITORS - But what if you could harness a technology that would enable you to drive 500 miles round-trip on a 5-minute charge?

That's the promise of U.S. Patent No. 7,033,406 which promises, maybe even threatens, to do away with the internal combustion engine, and the traditional car battery, all in one swoop.
The patent is the property of Austin-based startup called EEStor, which touts "technologies for replacement of electrochemical batteries." In layman's terms, that means you could use the EEStor technology to drive from Boston to Philly and back without a drop of gasoline.

The Vertical Farm is a concept that seeks to address the major concerns of the environmental degradation of the modern city by composting, recycling waste and farming in a standard tenement building. The "ecological footprint" of the city will be lessened and therefore the city will become a more sustainable setting. The reduction of wastes and the production of foods for consumption will in turn increase the quality of life for all those within the city and its surrounding area. The reduction in transportation of both wastes and of food products and the use of abandoned buildings will directly increase the quality of the urban settling.

Jay Draiman, Energy Consultant
Northridge, CA 91324

Posted on: 10/9//2007

Hi guys, im a 5th year architecture student, just wanna ask if where can i find design and structural guidelines in building a high rise farm / vertical farm?

I really want to see further progress on this concept because I think this is could be a solution to are rising food shortage…I am involved in a campaign to build the first functioning tower: