The Vertical Farm

A glimpse into the future?

I just finished what may have been the most exciting book I’ve ever read: The Vertical Farm by Dr. Dickson Despommier.  Not a thriller – not even fiction –  it’s the future of agriculture.

And it’s mind-blowing.

You may be wondering how a topic as dry as agriculture could make for such a great read.  The answer’s pretty simple: whether we know it or not, with regards to our natural environment, humanity has always been the conductor of a runaway train.  While we’ve been off track since the beginning, the point of impact is in view and coming up fast.  But even on the eve of disaster, vertical farms may be the way to solve all of our environmental crises in one fell swoop.  It sounds almost too good to be true, but Despommier’s ideas come off as air tight and clear as day.

I know almost none of you will end up reading this book, but trust me you should know the information because it’s about to change the world.  After the jump are my quick and dirty book report and a video on the subject by the author.  Check them out – it’s important. 


The Plight of the Farmer

  • Though farming is often glorified, it remains a brutal industry with low returns.
  • Crops are at the whim of droughts, floods, spoilage, pests, plant disease, etc.
  • Because of this, 70% of what’s planted never reaches our plates
  • Though we currently are able to produce enough food to feed the planet (looking past injustices in global food distribution), within 30 years we’ll need to convert an additional land mass the size of Brazil to farming.  We simply don’t have the space.
  • In 2008, the cost of food worldwide was double what it was in 2000.  If trends continue, food will be increasingly unavailable and costs will skyrocket.

Agricultural Runoff

  • Mmmm... runoff.

    Agricultural runoff is when pesticides and other waste from large areas of land (farms) pollute surrounding surface and ground water.

  • Widely accepted as the most harmful cause of pollution
  • Because of the area it encompasses globally (a combined land mass the size of South America) and the poisons associated with it (pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, etc.) farming is by far the leading cause of agricultural runoff
  • Where runoff leads to bodies of water, estuaries are completely destroyed (that’s why America imports over 80% of its seafood)
  • Where runoff stays put – as is the case of California’s Central Valley – it makes the land itself infertile

Availability of Fresh Water

  • The availability of fresh water is fast becoming one of the world’s biggest crises.  Many believe water will soon be more valuable than oil.
  • Farming consumes 70% of the world’s fresh water intake

Depleting Ozone

  • Carbon emissions from fossil fuels are poisoning the air and depleting the earth’s ozone.
  • Global warming is one of the damning consequences of this.
  • Farming consumes 20% of US fossil fuels

The Overlooked Inner City

  • With half the world living in cities or nearby suburbs, fresh food produced on farms becomes farther and farther removed from the consumer.
  • This leads to dead zones in terms of food availability, resulting in poor health, especially among low-income inner city neighborhoods


A Vertical Farm is basically a multistoried hydroponic greenhouse.  Unlike traditional farms, they would be constructed where populations are most dense and, due to their construction, would be impregnable to the common obstacles and drawbacks of farms.



Consolidated, organic, and delicious.

The Plight of the Farmer

  • Environmental controls mean crops can be planted year round without the confines of climate or seasonality.
  • Sanitation controls mean no need for pesticides or herbicides.
  • Farmers would no longer be plagued by the unknown.  Success rates and profitability would go way up, raising availability and lowering global food costs.

Agricultural Runoff

  • Because the water used would be self-contained, there would be no agricultural runoff (even if there were, there would be no poisons used to make the water harmful)!

Availability of Fresh Water

  • Because it would be a closed-loop system (70-95% of the water would be continually recycled) far less fresh water would be needed.
  • “Grey water” (stuff you wouldn’t want to drink) could be converted back to fresh water through plant transpiration

Depleting Ozone

  • No farms means no giant farm equipment running on fossil fuels
  • Having farms located within city limits means much less fossil fuels used in transportation and refrigeration.
  • All the land that used to be farms (South America) could be converted back to wooded forests, helping to restore the earth’s atmosphere

The Overlooked Inner City

  • Vertical Farms would bring fresh, healthy food to the inner city’s doorstep
  • With it would come plenty of jobs and regional pride

That’s basically it.  The book obviously goes much more in depth, and I still really recommend you pick it up.  But the bottom line is that we can’t keep up an existence that takes more than it gives back.  It’s unnatural and destructive.  Vertical farms finally make possible a reality of creating a society that lives within its means.  In Despommier’s words, “It’s time to accept our connectedness to the rest of the natural world… In doing so, we will have achieved a major milestone in our evolution: sustainability into the millennium level.”

We’re literally at the doorstep of the next phase of human history.  Get psyched.


2 comments on “The Vertical Farm

  1. Joan Rowett says:

    Great article Andy, very informative. This should be the way of the future.

  2. […] that don’t have the same access to modern industry.  For the more developed world, I think Dickson Despommier’s idea of the vertical farm makes a lot more sense.  It recognizes today’s population dispersion by bring agriculture to the […]

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