Friday, March 06, 2009

Skyscraper Farms and Rooftop Hydroponics

Moving from California to the Bronx has really increased my awareness of food, a sense that has been recently been heightened as I just finished Micheal Pollans Ominvores Dilemma. At this point I may think that the industrial food system is the Devil, but I am also not particularly enamored with organic food, because for all its benefits, it still does enough wrong that I wonder at the extra price I am paying. Polyculture, small, integrated farms that use the animals, manure and features of their farms as part of their agriculture, looks pretty good, but this is way too limited to feed big cities like New York. So what should be done?

Well, there is a great article in Mother Jones magazine this month about this very topic,

"Jettisoned, too, will be the postcard image of the small farm with its neat rows of crops, vegetables, and livestock as constraints on space and resources necessitate new and quite unfamiliar designs. Proponents of vertical farms, for example, envision enormous glass-walled skyscrapers filled with vegetables, fruits, poultry, and aquaculture. Towering as high as 30 stories, and based on soilless farming, these space-age facilities would epitomize efficiency and sustainability: Water would be recycled, as would nutrients. The closed environment would eliminate the need for pesticides. Better still, the year-round, 24-hour growing season would boost yields anywhere from 6 to 30 times those of conventional dirt farms. Dickson Despommier, a Columbia University public health and microbiology professor who has championed vertical farming, claims that a single city block could feed 50,000 people."

I am not sure about the politics or practicalities of this idea, but I think it would be awesome if every few blocks of manhattan there was a giant, 30 story agriculture supercenter where you could go and get fresh meat and fruit that was harvested right there. This article provides a great introduction to a lot of the new ideas about the future of food and how we are going to change food production in this century, and is well worth reading.

Our society is almost totally integrated at this point; Obama is working on healthcare and energy during an economic crisis because the three issues are heavily interconnected. Similarly, food production, through by-products, agricultural subsidies, land issues and a host of other factors, is connected to almost every aspect of our lives. We should all be thinking about it.

1 comment:

Liz Snyder-Liles said...

Hey PJ - Long time since we've talked but I had to comment, I'm the founder of an 11-acre, "beyond organic" urban farm in Sunnyvale now ( so I think about this topic 24/7. I don't really thing giant hydroponic skyskrapers present much of a solution, especially because diversified small farms with lots of cleantech trains into the city would do just fine. Check out the most recent issue of Yes! Magazine for a really nice whole-picture look at the solutions out there!

My best,
Gunn '04