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Vertical Farms
June 22, 2005 4:51 PM   Subscribe

By the year 2050, nearly 80% of the earth’s population will reside in urban centers. An estimated 109 hectares of new land (about 20% more land than is represented by the country of Brazil) will be needed to grow enough food to feed them, if traditional farming practices continue as they are practiced today. A Potential Solution: farm vertically.
posted by signal (36 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
So I assume with that kind of demand, we'd no longer have problems with overproduction, and therefore wouldn't have to pay farmers to plow under their crops....

But seriously, I'd understood that the current agricultural output could more than sustain the current world population and projected one far into the future, it's the distribution that's the problem. Is this wrong?
posted by weston at 5:00 PM on June 22, 2005


Even if it's purely a problem of needing more arable land, why would it make sense to create "land" in the middle of a city? I.e., in the most expensive per-square-foot property known to man?

Why not, say, create a second farming level under Iowa?
posted by gurple at 5:02 PM on June 22, 2005


Don't you boys fret, the pending (any day now, honest!) avian flu pandemic will take care of that excessive population growth.
posted by keswick at 5:07 PM on June 22, 2005


Just wondering: why so so many solutions to our current problems sound so much like the SciFi I used to read in the early 60's?

(P.S. I think I know the answer to the question, but I don't have the time to get a PhD thesis out of it. If you do, send me a copy, with a twenty dollar bill enclosed.)
posted by kozad at 5:29 PM on June 22, 2005


Also vertical sleeping, driving, and swimming will become the norm. And for the hydroponics fans out there, we shall introducediagonal farming.
posted by Mr Bluesky at 5:35 PM on June 22, 2005


Didn't I see that on Brass Eye a few years ago?
posted by aaronetc at 6:10 PM on June 22, 2005


three questions -

1 where are they going to get all the electricity for the artificial lighting?

2 where are they going to get all the building materials?

3 do we have the resources for all of that?
posted by pyramid termite at 6:23 PM on June 22, 2005


Course, biotech has the potential ability to significantly increase crop yields for awhile...
posted by ph00dz at 6:39 PM on June 22, 2005


May I add: 4 Can US citizens anticipate an influx of undocumented robot vertical farmworkers?
posted by longsleeves at 6:39 PM on June 22, 2005


Why not expand high-productivity US midwest farming practices to cover central europe and western Asia?

Also think positive: Global Warming will make Alaska, Northern Canada and Siberia into prime farmland.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:55 PM on June 22, 2005


repost?
posted by es_de_bah at 7:33 PM on June 22, 2005


but while we're on it, i'm with keswick:
between aids, environemental problems, nukes, terrorism, and/or a horrible plague resulting from the insane way we produce meat in the developed world, population shouldn't be a problem for long.

unless we solve all of thsoe problems, and I can't see us doing that without finding someway out of the food production/distribution problem...
posted by es_de_bah at 7:39 PM on June 22, 2005


How about instead of that we teach birth control methods to the third world. Looks a lot more practical.
posted by Citizen Premier at 8:03 PM on June 22, 2005


Really, the trouble with farming is that it will always take up land; plants are little solar power plants and they need sun. Stack one farm on top of another and you steal that farm's sun.

Farming on other planets, now that's an idea!
posted by Citizen Premier at 8:10 PM on June 22, 2005


Used to do that on a very small scale on a NYC window ledge using 3 stacked window boxes.

Cucumbers, snow peas, vine beans, peppers and tomatoes growing out of the lower 2 boxes, (which depending on season) with smaller veggies in the uppermost one. Plastic net to support vines and long plants.

Water the top and it trickles down through the rest.
posted by HTuttle at 8:16 PM on June 22, 2005


How about instead of that we teach birth control methods to the third world.

Third world?!? Christ, lets teach it here. The family down the road is on child number 7 already.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 8:18 PM on June 22, 2005


Citizen Premier: “How about instead of that we teach birth control methods to the third world. Looks a lot more practical.

So many morons, so little time...
posted by signal at 8:32 PM on June 22, 2005


Seems to me that the urbanization of the worlds population is the sustainable trend. Its the suburbanization that'll kill us.

This about it this way. New York City has a population density of 26,202 people/mile. This means that would could fit the entire world population in an area of less than 200,000 square miles or pretty much less than 2/3 or the Texas.

That would leave the entire rest of the freaking world open for support (farming, manufacture, recreation, etc)

The thing that's killing us is that every schmoe feels like that need an acre to themselves.

Just food for thought (pun intended)
posted by PissOnYourParade at 10:40 PM on June 22, 2005


Well, plus the US Gov't is currently on an anti-birth control of any kind kick. Y'know, 'cuz God doesn't want any of that going on, along with the not having sex unless you're married requirement.

Yeah, I'm being snarky, but that's pretty much what's happening. Federal money is being withheld from the numerous programs that were teaching modern birth control like condoms and the pill, in favor of programs that follow the "faith-based" abstinence-type "education." Even though the last 20+ years of exporting effective birth control methods was helping somewhat.

But besides all that, we do throw away a lot of food here in the West, as well as refining large amounts of useful, nutritious, durable food stock into lots of more perishable forms... before we throw it out.

Wonder-type white bread being a great example. It's possible to make bread that will last for many, many days and feed people well, as opposed to nearly nutritionally-empty bread with a short shelf life. Supermarkets throw out all the bread on the shelves every what, 2 days or so? If that bread was more durable, it would be available to more people.
posted by zoogleplex at 10:40 PM on June 22, 2005


Oops, didn't read on preview... POYP, yeah, urbanization is actually more sustainable, if somewhat less comfortable.

Anyone ever read Asimov's The Caves of Steel?
posted by zoogleplex at 10:42 PM on June 22, 2005


As for why to do it in the middle of a city rather than the Central Asian plains or underneath Iowa, let's not forget that one of the problems of modern food production is the distance foods travel before they reach their intended appetites. That transportation requires energy, produces waste, furthers political and economic exploitation, and separates us from the reality of what is produced.
posted by Coherence Panda at 11:01 PM on June 22, 2005


I agree with POYP, we wouldn't have as much of a problem if we weren't developing some of the best farmland in the world into some of the largest subdivisions. Economics wins again! It's more profitabl to grow houses than it is to grow corn, rice, and wheat.
Satyagraha
posted by thebestsophist at 11:02 PM on June 22, 2005


where are they going to get all the electricity for the artificial lighting?

The biggest problem we as a species on this planet is finding enough energy.
That's the holy grail that must be achieved.. soon.
With a clean, renewable, reliable, cheap and safe source of energy, we'll be living in the Jetsons age in no time.
Oil ain't it. Neither is coal or any other fossil fuel.

Vertical farming, flying cars, reducing your job to just one button to push, it'll all be achieved through cheap power.

This will probably involve science, and since we are going back to religon (lately), we might have to wait for another 50 years or so.

Get the energy, and the future will fall into place.
posted by Balisong at 12:05 AM on June 23, 2005


The thing that's killing us is that every schmoe feels like that need an acre to themselves.

And usually a wasted acre, because it's turned into a flat square of some variety of carpet-grade grass. If they grew their own food (or let other people grow food on their land if they were too lazy or busy to do it themselves), it would be a different story.

How much land would a house with four people need to become a semi-farm that could grow, say, half of its own fruits and vegetables? (And how much longer and healthier would people start to live if they grew and ate their own fruits and vegetables?)
posted by pracowity at 12:10 AM on June 23, 2005


Land area isn't the problem, it's water.
posted by fshgrl at 1:05 AM on June 23, 2005


Check out the Harper's article on agriculture in Cuba: The Cuba Diet. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Cuba's supply line to the Soviet Union snapped. In the decades between 1959 and 1989, Cuba had grown dependent on the Eastern Bloc for food (they grew sugar cane and not much else). Stranded politically and economically, and unable to keep their Soviet tractors in good repair, Cubans relearned how to feed themselves.

One of the most interesting developments has been intensive urban farming, which I think sounds cool. I'm sick of lawns. Bring on the front lawns of tomatoes and peas, the coutyards of corn.
posted by palinode at 1:11 AM on June 23, 2005


I'm with palinode. Plus, the only way my son will eat veggies is if he picks them himself. Lawns aren't doing anyone favors like that.
posted by slimslowslider at 1:17 AM on June 23, 2005


That's hilarious. Chris Morris did an excellent piece on Vertical Farming in 'The Day Today'. If we were to change what we eat and how we farm it we'd be fine without any radical solutions. All those beef cows consume an awful lot of grain...
posted by SamSugar at 4:02 AM on June 23, 2005


Already 6 years ago the Dutch architect collective MVRDV proposed a vertical pig city built in/next to the Rotterdam harbour were the food comes in to minimize transportation cost. It got, ehrm, mixed reviews in the Dutch society and was never built.

Images on website in Dutch and an English language one.
Official architect's site [shockwave, takes forever and doesn't seem to dsiplay something meaningful anymore].
posted by kika at 6:11 AM on June 23, 2005


[Grr. I pressed post by accident.]

Already 6 years ago the Dutch architect collective MVRDV proposed a vertical pig city built in/next to the Rotterdam harbour were the food comes in to minimize transportation cost. It got, ehrm, mixed reviews in the Dutch society and was never built.

Images on website in Dutch and an English language one.
Official architect's site [shockwave, takes forever and doesn't seem to display something meaningful anymore].
posted by kika at 6:14 AM on June 23, 2005


In honor of the proud yippie tradition of the 1960s I say the solution is obvious, EAT THE RICH! :-)

But seriously, many problems have been well presented in this and other recent threads about agricultural sustainability. Yes, using fossil fules for farming and fertilizer is an issue, as is the wasting of the best farmland for yuppie yards and golf courses. Also mentioned is the need for water for farming, an issue seldom raised but becoming more visible in the American west. What it all comes down to is population control, moving away from eating meat and a more agrarian society. Nothing wrong with growing vegetables locally, its a great idea, as the Harpers article points out so well.
We could follow Brautigan's vision instead of Asimov's and grow watermelons. (right trout?)
posted by nofundy at 6:39 AM on June 23, 2005


The last time that I've saw vertical farming in any depth is on the Alex Chiu Website, notorious from yonks ago...

How cheap is air? Air is priceless. Without air, we cannot survive.
If air is priceless, why don't we make our food priceless? If food becomes priceless, people no longer need to work 8 hours a day like slaves.

So in the future, farming will be done in high tech sky scrapers. This 80 stories high sky scraper is a giant robotic farm house. >>>
Everything will be fully automatic. Robots will farm for humans. The cost of farming will be extremely low. 1 acre of land can produce millions of tons of food each year.

Each year, American farmers spend 7 billion dollars on insect killing chemicals. But once we start farming in the sky scrapers, farming will become indoor. That means they no longer need to spray insect killers. Vegetables will also become cleaner and safer for us to eat.


it's all very simple according to Mr Chiu.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 7:44 AM on June 23, 2005


How much land would a house with four people need to become a semi-farm that could grow, say, half of its own fruits and vegetables?

There are approx 4000 square meters per acre.

According to The Vegan Society:
"a vegan diet can meet calorie and protein needs from just 300 square metres using mainly potatoes. A more varied diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, grains and legumes would take about 700 square metres. Replacing a third of the calories in this diet with calories from milk and eggs would double the land requirements and a typical European omnivorous diet would require five times the amount of land required for a varied vegan diet"

So, that means a typical 4 person family would require 2800*4=11200 square meters of decent farmland, or about 3 acres to fully feed itself. Answering the question above more directly, supplying half of the family's fruit and vegetables would take about 700*4/2=1400 square meters, or a little less than half an acre, intensively planted.
posted by Invoke at 9:17 AM on June 23, 2005


Already 6 years ago the Dutch architect collective MVRDV proposed a vertical pig city built in/next to the Rotterdam harbour were the food comes in to minimize transportation cost. It got, ehrm, mixed reviews in the Dutch society and was never built.

Hah, maybe these pigs were potty trained. "Hog Factories" get tons of complaints here in Iowa, I can't imagine something like that being built in a city. The smell is horrible. (From what I hear, they are mostly only near small towns).
posted by delmoi at 10:13 AM on June 23, 2005


What about when a farm cow falls off and lands on an SUV?
posted by buzzman at 11:09 AM on June 23, 2005


Why not just get people to stop boinking each other like Viagra'ed bunnies and creating the overpopulation problem in the first place?
posted by fenriq at 12:25 PM on June 23, 2005


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