Vertical Farming: How New York Can Become the Farming Capital of the U.S.

vertical farming

Urban warehouses, skyscrapers, and abandoned buildings are becoming the settings for a new green revolution. Vertical farming is developing into a new, environmentally friendly way to feed the swelling populations of the world. From Singapore to Scranton, Pennsylvania this new technique is being popularized. Environmental experts believe that if it embraces vertical farming, New York City, due to its large building density, can become the new farming capital of the U.S.

What is vertical farming? To summarize, the environmental assimilation technique involves cultivating plant or animal life within a skyscraper greenhouse or vertically aligned surface. There are different types of this practice. The first technique was proposed and constructed by architect Ken Yeang. This involves constructing a skyscraper that is multi-purposed for housing and/or work, and to provide the setting to grow plants and vegetables. This, according to Yeang, would be simple and unintrusive due to how high and spacious the buildings are. Yeang suggests that, ideally, the mixed use skyscraper would provide all the inhabitants of its own building with food.

Another type of vertical farming emerged from ecologist Dickson Despommier at Columbia University. Unlike Yeang’s proposal, Despommier’s concept aims for mass production of goods via the revolutionary tactic. His idea is to cultivate plant and animal life within hermetically sealed, artificial environments. These structures can be placed anywhere, but Despommier asserts that they will be most beneficial on the rooftops of buildings in an urban environment.

After Despommier and Yeang, other architects, environmental scientists, and ecologists have provided their support and continued to further develop the new systems. The goals throughout all of these systems is the same: To avoid the problems innate in growing food crops in disease and drought prone fields hundreds of miles from the places they will be consumed. They want to grow food year-round by assimilating habitats into urban high-rises, and reduce carbon emissions by synthesizing businesses into one location thus eliminating the need for transportation vehicles.

The largest vertical farm opened in March in Scranton. It was built by Green Spirit Farms of New Buffalo, Michigan. It is a single story structure covering 3.25 hectares and will house 17 million plants. With the amount of plants housed in this small space, and considering the amount of vertical farming real estate in New York City, green architects are making moves to start constructing in the metropolitan giant with the hopes of turning it into the new farming capital of the U.S. It appears that the future population will require the technology, as the United Nations has estimated that 86 percent of the developed world will be living in cities by 2050.

Vertical farming can also make food production more secure, with farming being able to continue even in the harshest of weather conditions. If properly maintained, the urban farms will not require any herbicide or insecticide due to either being indoors, or in an isolated artificial habitat. They also support water conservation. If the United Nations is correct, environmentalists believe that vertical farming will be a requirement rather than an eco-friendly option, and if the entire world looks like New York City, then the opportunity for vertical farms turning these cityscapes into farming capitals will be greater than ever.

By Andres Loubriel

New Scientist
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