Monday, March 28, 2011

Off the Shelf: 'The Vertical Farm'

Photo courtesy of Vertical Farm
Off the Shelf is an occasional feature wrapping up a book about a food-related topic. These are not reviews; think of them as extended book jackets with important pull-out points.

Farming is a difficult venture. Water, weather, fertilizers, fossil fuels, disease, pests, agricultural runoff. All of these issues affect how the planet will be able to sustain human life in this century.

"The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century" by Dickson Despommier addresses these issues and more.

He notes that as the population grows, to feed that population, an area the size of Brazil would have to be used as farmland.

Instead, Despommier posits that vertical farms can help to feed that growing population. Those vertical farms would be founded in urban centers.
Photo courtesy of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The farms he envisions would make optimal use of sunlight, reuse water and other plant waste, and decrease miles food would travel from farm to table. (In Milwaukee, Growing Power and Will Allen have already announced plans for a smaller version of a vertical farm.)

But Despommier admits that animal husbandry, by large, will need to remain out of the urban environment. There are some exceptions, of course.

There certainly are benefits to a vertical farm. Indoors would allow for year-round farming, limit weather- and pest-related crop failures, and allow for some farmland to be restored to its natural use.

There are a lot of upsides to a vertical farm. Unfortunately, the barriers to getting many implemented are money and politics. The idea is great; but can these farms become a reality?

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