June 26, 2007 Would you have ever thought it conceivable to grow vast amounts of produce in the heart of densely populated cities such as Hong Kong, Tokyo or New Delhi? A new model for agriculture is proposing just that. Vertical farming is the latest concept to address the impending crisis in world food production and follows the same methodology that town planners have used for years to cope with growing populations and space limitations; build up, not out. Aiming to bring food production to the places where most of the consumption occurs, the concept envisages specially designed skyscrapers that contain multiple levels of viable farmland providing all-year-round food production in a controlled, parasite-free environment.

Indoor food production is certainly not new. Growers have been producing crops such as tomatoes indoors for years but what makes Vertical Farming unique is the scale and use of never before trialled multi-level design. The construction of vertical farms will include cutting edge systems such as biogas-fired cogeneration, geothermal heating and cooling, rooftop photovoltaic (solar power technology) and water recycling. Indoor farming has the advantage of being free from climate concerns which can (and do) adversely affect conventional farming.

The idea originated from The Vertical Farm Project, lead by Dr Dickson Despommier from Columbia University’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences. He engaged students to research and develop alternatives to conventional food production. The vertical farm is still an entirely theoretical idea that relies heavily on existing technologies that need to be fully developed. Dr Despommier and his team are seeking funding to improve technology and convert the theory into reality.

Proposed design concepts aim to create a futuristic platform for food production integrated into the urban landscape. One proposal - the "SkyFarm" by Gordon Graff - envisages a massive 2,700,000 square feet of floor area in downtown Toronto that could produce food for 35,000 people for an entire year and replace 420 hectares of traditional farmland on a 1.32 hectare site. Innovative designs from Chris Jacobs, Andrew Kranis and Pierre Sartoux, whose "La Tour Vivante" (Living Tower) project incorporates underground parking and ground level distribution areas where city dwellers can access the fresh produce grown on the floors above.

There are numerous incentives to further develop the concept of high rise farming. Is has the potential to reduce the despoliation of our planet by current agricultural practices and may be a viable solution to world hunger. The enormous cost of transporting food to places in need is a major contributing factor to world hunger. In areas of Africa where the land is arid and citizens unable to pay for imported produce, vertical farms offer an ideal solution to provide whole communities with ongoing food supplies. The labor intensive nature of the farming (as large scale machinery would be unusable in such a space) would create jobs and boost local economies.

Vertical farming could revolutionize the way we produce food. This new model may complement, and potentially replace, traditional farming methods and provide food for the world using a fraction of the space. The fallout from this move to urban centers for food production would mark the end of rolling acres of farmland and move workers to cities to develop new skills. The long term social and economic impact of this is unknown but the concept certainly has the potential to greatly affect our ecosystems and address issues as large as global hunger. This is one idea where the sky is truly the limit.

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