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Vertical Farming 503

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the high-rye's-buildings dept.
SolFire writes "The BBC is running a look at the potential for Vertical Farming in the Big Apple, a concept that promises to reduce the environmental impact of farming and increase the efficiency of food production by building multi-story farm complexes in urban areas. The vertical farm is envisioned as a self sustaining complex of greenhouses stacked on top of each other. More details can be found on the project web site."
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Vertical Farming

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  • arcology (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rarel (697734) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @11:50AM (#19582293) Homepage
    Interesting.

    Could be the first step towards building arcologies [wikipedia.org]...
    • by pilgrim23 (716938)
      the Canadian show Food Jammers had a segment recently on this; some guy in I think Toronto doing this...
      • Re:arcology (Score:5, Informative)

        by Rei (128717) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @03:57PM (#19586337) Homepage
        Wired.com had a very good article [wired.com] on this last year. It's an interesting concept. You treat lettuce growing the same way you do chip fabrication -- high density cleanrooms in optimal conditions. So, you get perfect organic produce, no pesticides, no fungicides, no herbicides, grown as fast as physically possible -- natural light supplimented with LEDs of optimal frequencies, water and mineral recapture (so only a tiny fraction of what is normally used gets used).

        The downside is obviously the cost. However, the numbers still work out nicely. 85% of our lettuce is grown on the west coast at about 18 cents per head. This lettuce is more expensive (albeit near perfect, organic, and uberfresh), at 27 cents per head to produce. However, the cost to ship a head of lettuce from the west coast is as much as 50 cents. So you end up saving an awful lot.

        As for energy usage: a semi gets 120-200 gross ton miles per gallon. Let's go with the middle, 160 ton miles/gallon. This means 320000 heads of lettuce per mile/gallon, or ~118 heads of lettuce per gallon from LA to NYC, i.e. ~0.0085 gallons per head of lettuce. That's 1.25 MJ of energy. The lettuce needs 2-3 months -- let's say 75 days. Let's say that half the light (compared to a sunny farm in SoCal) is supplimented -- perhaps 3 kWh/day. Let's say that they use diode lamps, so it's really 4 kWh/day consumed: 300 kWh total. That's 1.1 MJ. So, growing locally wins. But it gets better because you use 1/5th the fertilizer, no pesticides, and so on.

      • Re:arcology (Score:4, Insightful)

        by timeOday (582209) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @05:46PM (#19587793)

        Some guy in I think Toronto doing this...
        I just searched this page (already 100s of comments) for "marijuana," and surprisingly got no hits. If you want to know who's pioneering indoor farming, it's them [usatoday.com].
    • I saw the picture and thought "SimCity 2000 Forest Arco" It would be cool if the final farm could generate it's own electricity with wind turbines and solar cells. Also, if you can generate your own power you can pump your own water. Also, using light pipes to passively increase the amount of natural light that gets to the plans would be fun as well.
      • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @12:37PM (#19583165)
        Anyone who's worked in even the most windowed office building knows that only the spaces next to the windows get the light.

        Plants need light to grow. The windows can only supply so much. So the other light has to be artificially produced (which eats energy).

        The soil, the water, fertilization, etc can all be handled fairly naturally. But some of it will have to be imported. This is not "self sustained" by any means.

        But the biggest factor is energy consumption. Is it cheaper to spend the energy to move crops from 100% natural light into the city or is it cheaper to spend the energy on artificial light and grow the crops inside the city?
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by WormholeFiend (674934)
          If the building is high enough, you could put a huge ass windmill on top.

          Also, you could put some solar panels on the sunny side(s), on the "floor" surfaces (where there are no windows).
        • Anyone who's worked in even the most windowed office building knows that only the spaces next to the windows get the light.

          Actually, I recall seeing several years ago, a show on a house that had "light fixtures" that were actually putting out natural light by, if memory serves, fiber optics that started at the outside of the house and piped the light through the building.
          • by hb253 (764272) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @01:08PM (#19583729)
            I think you're referring to a product called Solatube (or equivalent) http://www.solatube.com/ [solatube.com]
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Steve525 (236741)
            Actually, I recall seeing several years ago, a show on a house that had "light fixtures" that were actually putting out natural light by, if memory serves, fiber optics that started at the outside of the house and piped the light through the building.

            True, but there's only so much light hitting the building. You can come up with tricks to distribute and divide the light any way you want, but at some point you aren't going to have enough luminance for plant growth (over a given amount of area).
            • Not all plants require a great deal of light. For example, berries tend to do better in the shade. Some of our foodstuffs don't even require light at all - like mushrooms.
        • Easy enough (Score:3, Interesting)

          by geekoid (135745)
          just mandate that the out 20' of every floor in in every building over the 5th floor has to be used for this.
        • by bahstid (927038) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @01:35PM (#19584167)
          Exactly - was horrified that their little artists impressions used a ROUND building. These things need to be long and thin and orientated on an east-west axis... further improvements could also be made by staggering the floors to get some extra light into the lower levels (a slight triangular cross section) and also using sloped/terraced floor slabs...

          Also I don't understand the exclusive-use mentality. The core (low light or north-facing depending on your hemisphere) areas could be turned over to other uses, and the whole thing could be seen as a balcony farm arrangement instead. Instead of staring out at the rest of the concrete jungle, I would be pretty happy to have a bunch of green things outside my window. This also makes it easier to pay for the building when you get to sell some office/living/retail space to go along with it.

          These people don't seem to have thought very creatively about what they are up to. It seems more an idea of how to arrange a traditional horizontal farm within limited city space. They haven't really explored the vertical context at all, either in arrangement or delivery systems etc, and also very tied to fixed ideas of what exactly a farm is....

          I think urban farming is really an important thing that we should be thinking about reviving, but if you gonna think out of the box, don't just look out....
        • by AKAImBatman (238306) * <.akaimbatman. .at. .gmail.com.> on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @01:38PM (#19584209) Homepage Journal

          But the biggest factor is energy consumption. Is it cheaper to spend the energy to move crops from 100% natural light into the city or is it cheaper to spend the energy on artificial light and grow the crops inside the city?

          Spending time reading the website, I'm convinced that it could very well be economical to grow food in vertical farms rather than importing it. The light issue is solved in several ways. If you look at the website, they have a design intended for Toronto that actuallys slants the building sideways to provide the maximum possible lighting to all levels during the morning hours. (It reminds me a bit of a Nintendo Wii in its cradle.)

          Beyond that, you need to keep in mind that this is a controlled environment. Most natural environments can only produce crops during a single season. A controlled environment can produce crops year round. The website claims that this would result in a 4-6x increase in production per acre of farmable land. I find this number to be perfectly believable given the incredible production of areas like Hawaii, which can grow their sugarcane year round thanks to the more even climate.

          The controlled environment also removes potential issues with the crops. There will be no dry seasons, no tornadoes or hurricanes, and a far lower chance of disease or pestilence in the crops. There will also be less need to genetically engineer crops for different environments and/or as great of a need to spray for pests.

          The pages go on to provide more explanations, but the take away is that there is a strong chance that this could be economically viable. In many ways, it seems like a very *good* idea. I'd love to see a test building setup just to work out the kinks and see if it really is as feasible as they're suggesting.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Jon Kay (582672)

            I don't see it working. There are three problems:

            (1) Farming doesn't pay. Really. Compared to industries like money, insurance, and even publishing, farming comes out to terrible labor conditions and abject poverty. It'll be very hard to find workers or to ever get as much money as from rent on the same volume.

            (2) There's no space crisis in farming, contrary to the webpage - in fact, many acres have been retired from farming and are being retired today as well.

            (3) Did I mention farming really, re

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Hatta (162192)
              You forgot one word... "yet". Right now we are easily able to meet demand for food. As the population grows they will eat more food and occupy more space. More demand for food will send prices up. Less space will mean less farmland and less supply driving prices further up.
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by mini me (132455)

                driving prices further up.

                Crops are sold below production, driving the prices up to sustainable levels would be a good thing for everyone (except perhaps if you're exceedingly wealthy).
    • Re:arcology (Score:4, Funny)

      by Anne_Nonymous (313852) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @01:07PM (#19583711) Homepage Journal
      A more elegant solution would be to trade the family cow for some magic beans.
  • Air quality? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by erroneus (253617) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @11:51AM (#19582303) Homepage
    I have to wonder what the produce would be like given the general air quality in that area. I doubt this sort of thing could be scaled large enough to actually make a positive impact on the environment so my question would be what consequences would occur in the resulting produce? Would it be carrying toxic or other unpleasant side-effects?

    And even more importantly: Where will they get the illegal labor to harvest the stuff?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by AshtangiMan (684031)
      I don't know about the air quality but wonder about the energy requirements. All of the lower levels require HID lighting to simulate sunlight to the plants. So while it increases plant production per unit land, it also increases energy requirements per unit land. The economy of this system seems very non sustainable to me.
      • Re:Air quality? (Score:4, Informative)

        by MonorailCat (1104823) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @12:10PM (#19582653)
        A pdf on the site, besides containing many interesting sketches and models, also makes the claim that cleverly integrated wind power generators allow the building to be 'off the grid' http://www.verticalfarm.com/images/design/ip/Waimo nd_Ip.pdf [verticalfarm.com] I'm suspicious, but it sounds like they're making the attempt.
      • by misleb (129952)
        Some of the designed seemed to included wind power on the top of the buildings and/or methane reactors for biomass. I didn't, however, see anything on the site that talked about the net engergy requirements.

        -matthew
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        That would be my concern as well, but energy, in the form of fissile uranium, is actually one thing we do have in abundance, if only we were willing to use it. Given sufficient nuclear power generation capability, we could easily power vertical farms, water desalinization plants, and liquid fuel production facilities (using coal, biomass, or any number of other things as raw stock). We could thereby not only reduce but probably eliminate, once and for all, any need to import fuel from the Middle East or R
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by n1ckml007 (683046)
      Well this would decrease the demands of transporting in all of the produce, thus reducing the amount of smog produced in transit.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by SatanicPuppy (611928) *
      Any bonus CO2 or NO3- would be beneficial to the plants. Extra O3, CO, NO2- and SO2 would be harmful/toxic. Still, it's indoors, and all those things are at least as bad for people, so whatever systems we have in place to deal with environmental contaminants for people should be equally adequate for plants. As I recall, they mainly consist of closing the windows.

      Since adding extra CO2 would be beneficial to yields, etc, we could use this sort of cultivation as a way to dispose of extra CO2 captured by carbo
  • Yay! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Timesprout (579035)
    Finally we get flying pigs. Now when does Hell freeze over again?
  • Economics? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Raindance (680694) * <johnsonmx@NOsPaM.gmail.com> on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @11:52AM (#19582331) Homepage Journal
    My initial reaction is yes, this would be very cool. I question the economics, however:

    1. Cost/benefit in terms of land and construction. It'd be *expensive* to build (and keep up) such custom, fragile, and constraint-ridden structures in high-rent NYC.

    2. Competition with more conventional year-round greenhouses in NYC's 'burbs.

    It's hard to know how these factors would shake out. I wish the scientists all the luck in finding funding, though I think there are other worthy (and competing) ideas that deserve funding just as much as this.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Moby Cock (771358)
      I don't think they would be any more fragile that anyother glass structure in the city. The cost/availability of water strikes me as a limiting factor morse that anything else. The extra cost in real estate could conceiveably be recouped in smaller transport costs.
      • Real Estate (Score:3, Interesting)

        by grahamsz (150076)
        Transport costs are unlikely to ever be zero, you'll have to move stuff a few miles around the city to get it to stores and resturants.

        Given that, this isn't going to be in a downtown area. Costs will mean it's much more likely to be in a depressed ex-industrial region - real estate will cost many times less and there will be a marginal transportation incerase.

        I wonder how pollution will affect the quality of the produce. I do know there's a vineyard in Commerce City, Co in the shadow of a huge oil refinery
      • I don't think they would be any more fragile that anyother glass structure in the city. The cost/availability of water strikes me as a limiting factor morse that anything else. The extra cost in real estate could conceiveably be recouped in smaller transport costs.

        Actually, I would hazard a guess that agricultural wastes would be a larger problem: Out here in the country, it's simply a matter of run off. A luxury you do not have in the city.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      It might not be quite the thing for places with super high land value like NYC or Tokyo, but if it could be used wide spread in places like Brazil (where the deforestation is about getting more arable land) it could be a huge boon. Leave the rainforests alone and feed the growing population. It could well be worth the extra initial effort of construction and tweaking out the in building ecosystem.
    • by Reziac (43301) *
      Even if it's not sustainable as a business venture, ISTM that on a smaller scale it might be a practical addition to existing housing structures -- essentially protected greenhouse space for residents, without having to rent gardening ground elsewhere.

    • Re:Economics? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by panzagloba (1117959) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @12:17PM (#19582819)
      I am both a farmer and an architect (I was raised on a farm and worked as a farmer for 10 years, then went to college to study architecture) This designer is an idiot. Yes, you could technically make a giant vertical greenhouse, but why would you WANT to? 1). The vast majority of the labor would have to be done by hand. There is no way in HELL you are getting a 200hp tractor up there, period. The other option is to have equipment built into the building that can be used, but that gets unbelievably expensive, fast. 1920's all over again? No thanks. 2). Plants simply don't do as well in green houses as they do in nature. Yeah, you can get close with careful application of various fertilizers and chemicals, but then it isn't organic anymore! 3). Architecturally this would be a nightmare. Water everywhere + low ventilation to conserve heat in the greenhouse = HUGE mold and building decay problems. Greenhouses work because they don't have anything for water to seep into, they are basically steel and glass. That wouldn't work for a VERTICAL greenhouse though, you would need concrete, vapor barriers, water flashing... Again. We are talking about a LOT of money. I think my family will stick with our little patch of former swampland.
      • Tractor?!?! LOL!! (Score:3, Interesting)

        by FatSean (18753)
        Dude, organic hydroponics. It's real, I practice it in my home to grow greens for my tortoises in the winter. The shit I grow under an old security light looks better than the stuff I buy at the grocery store! Either I'm a better farmer than the big guys, or all that transport takes a toll on the food.

        Plants might not do as well, but then we don't have to spend energy transporting food 1000 miles from BFE. We also reduce the infrastructure load on NYC and surrounding areas.

        Ventilation will be a problem,
        • Re:Tractor?!?! LOL!! (Score:4, Informative)

          by panzagloba (1117959) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @12:55PM (#19583493)
          Transport does take a heavy toll on food, usually because it is harvested before it is ripe so that it doesn't rot in transport. That usually results in fairly tasteless food, especially fruit and tomatoes. Let me see if I can put the costs of this into perspective for you. First of all, you have the cost of the land. Prime farm land in the midwest (which is the best soil in the world) goes for about $4500per/acre +/- $2000 for infrastructure conditions, etc. To give you an idea of the profits, my families most profitable crop is corn. Each acre produces between 120 and 175 bushels/acre of corn on average, though my families farm hasn't seen below 210 bu/acre in the last 10 years. Last year the price of corn was about $2.85 per bushel, though this year is is threatening to hit $5 because of ethanol. 100 acres is about all that you could reasonably expect one building to be able to hold while still getting enough light. (fyi 1 sq. mile = 640 acres) To buy 100 acres would cost $450,000. The INCOME off of 100 acres next year for my family should be 100acres x 180 bu/acre x $5/bu = $90,000!! Profit is usually less than 20% (I am a little fuzzy on exact numbers on that though). How much does transport cost? LESS than ten cents per bushel. $1800 max. It would take YEARS to pay off this land at this rate. (Hence why my family only owns 640 acres) A 4 acre lot in NY, 25 stories high, is going to be TENS of MILLIONS, just for the lot and construction costs. Then you have to haul in the dirt, (or set up the hydroponic tanks), pay the hand laborers, pay the MUCH HIGHER energy costs to produce this way... Theoretically it may work. In Practice? Nope. "Energy savings" aren't going to make a difference either, sorry.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by be951 (772934)
            Perhaps filtering through your own experience is too limiting. There are other factors which could maybe bring the concept closer to being competitive. Isn't the premium on organic produce 50-100%? I don't buy it, so I'm not sure. But based on some items I've seen, that seems in the ballpark. There may also be a slight bonus for locally grown produce. So the income from this produce will be greater than the average farm. From there, consider that you probably wouldn't grow bulk/commodity crops like co
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Altus (1034)
          Let me get this straight.



          You are growing "Greens" indoors, using hydroponics, under a security light... for your turtle


          Riiiight... turtle, sure... enjoy your "greens" :-)

  • Now this is thinking outside the box! Will be interested to see the results once a running system is producing.
  • Price of land? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by merreborn (853723) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @11:55AM (#19582387) Journal
    A 10 story building in NYC is still going to be way more expensive than 100 acres out in nowheresville, Kansas, isn't it?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Smight (1099639)
      True.
       
      But I think New Yorkers are willing to pay whatever it takes to cut off any ties with the rest of the country.
      • New Yorkers are willing to pay whatever it takes to cut off any ties with the rest of the state. (NY State has a lot of farming as a key part of its economy)
    • by ranton (36917)
      The article talks about impending problems in the next 50 years of growing and distributing food to our growing population. 100 acres in Kansas might be cheaper, but eventually we will run out of land to farm on. And while it is cheap today to transport food hundreds/thousands of miles to get to the grocery store now, I am not so sure about when gasoline costs $20/gallon.

      I seriously doubt anyone thinks this is economically viable today. But what I assume they want to do is figure out how to make it work
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by SatanicPuppy (611928) *
        Water is really more of an issue. At some point it will cease to be economical to farm large sections of the midwest, just because it will become so expensive to irrigate without a plentiful source of local water.

        At that point, large, self-contained farms that use a comparatively miniscule amount of water will look like a MUCH better idea.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by hypnagogue (700024)
        Wow, where to start?

        First, buy a calculator and learn how to use it.

        Here's a simple calculation to start with: it costs about $1 to move a ton of produce 20 miles. If gasoline was $20 a gallon, then that number would be $6 per ton for the same 20 miles. Even if we accept your ridiculous premise of $20 a gallon gas, and your outside estimate of "thousands of miles", we are still talking about less than $600 to move a ton of food 2000 miles. If you think that's a lot, consider that the market is alread
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by arnwald (468380)

      A 10 story building in NYC is still going to be way more expensive than 100 acres out in nowheresville, Kansas, isn't it?
      Until Scotty 'Beam Me Up' gets born, you'll still need to use resources to get that salad from Nowheresville to NYC. You will also need to gas up your equipment to sow and harvest, buy pesticides and cry when bad weather just ruined your crops. So I am not so sure how 'cheap' those acres in Kansas are.

      T.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Maybe, but adding 10 stories to a 50 story building might not be; also, the sale of the produce would offset a lot of the cost (organic, locally grown food is like pure gold).
  • Uh.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kmac06 (608921) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @11:55AM (#19582391)
    Um...don't you need sunlight to grow (almost) anything? How exactly do you propose to get enough sunlight by going vertical! I suppose maybe some crops can get enough sunlight near sunrise and sunset...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Chyeld (713439)
      Find your local Pot grower and ask them.... Or you could just read up on what is currently used in Wikipedia.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_sunlight [wikipedia.org]
    • Re:Uh.. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Ceriel Nosforit (682174) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @12:05PM (#19582591)

      Energy would come from a giant solar panel but there would also be incinerators which use the farm's waste products for fuel.


      And with the solar panels, the energy should be enough for.... Hmmm. Lets see now... - Ah! One level! We can do away with the other stories and grow things right on the ground. What an incredible breakthrough! Mother Nature would never figure it out.

      And the version for the sarcastically impaired;
      Plants are more efficient than solar cells. The energy output will never exceed the input. Therefore, this is a dumb idea.
      • by Reziac (43301) *
        True re solar panels, but what about fibre-collected and -distributed sunlight? That could use the entire non-glass surface of the building.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Rorschach1 (174480)
        I had to laugh when I saw that solar panel on the roof. It's all about energy, and to get energy from sunlight you need surface area. Go look at a cornfield in Iowa - it's so densely packed and corn leaves are such naturally efficient collectors it's hard to imagine making any significant improvement on that arrangement. You can't see anything but green - every bit of surface area in that field is conducting photosynthesis. Put a structure *anywhere* in that field, and you're only going to reduce the am
  • ...of New Babylon -- er, York.
  • Finally... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Valdez (125966) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @11:59AM (#19582461)
    The job market is looking up for those with "hydroponics" listed as a hobby on their resume....

    I'm already surprised NASA doesn't hire them to come up with effective ways to grow things in space. If you want revolutionary science, send a group of them to the space station with a few seeds, some PVC pipe, and a light bulb. The place will look like the Amazon freakin' jungle before the next resupply shuttle docks.

  • Issues (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tbannist (230135) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @11:59AM (#19582471)
    There seem to be some practical issues with vertical farming... One being that the interior of a city isn't the best place to get sunlight from, that means the plants are going to need to have artificial lighting to keep them growing, you'll also have fairly intensive use of water. I'm not sure that city infrastructure would be ready to support a vertical farm, and that's before considering the issues of produce quality and marginal cost. As long as foreign produce is competing at price that is much lower than the price of produce produced in a vertical farm, then you've got problems. The vertical farm is almost certain bound to fail unless substancial duties are imposed on imported food.

    Of course, then you have a host of follow up issues such as the effect on increased food prices on the poor, and the distorting effect those prices may have on eating patterns and subsequently the health of the population...

    Still it's an interesting idea.
    • by mikael (484)
      you'll also have fairly intensive use of water.

      You have a more or less closed system - the water can be recovered from the air conditioning/drainage.

      i>One being that the interior of a city isn't the best place to get sunlight from

      Light can be brought into the lower levels of a building using light pipes, or through arrangement of the buildings levels (London Gherkin [wikipedia.org])

      If pot plants (the office kind) can grow in an office environment, crops shouldn't be too difficult.

      Perhaps this is a UK thing, but plenty o
  • Say what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pongo000 (97357) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @12:00PM (#19582487)
    a concept that promises to reduce the environmental impact of farming

    Thereby freeing up arable land for more "environmentally friendly" endeavors, like factories and housing developments.

    Give me a break. How about spending this money on ways to reduce the world's population growth? Lack of arable land is a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself.

    The report says most of the 3 billion people to be added to world population in the next 50 years would be born in areas where land was scarce. If the grain-land area in the world stayed the same as in 2000, the 9 billion people projected to inhabit the planet in 2050 would each be fed from less than 0.07 hectares of grain-land -- an area smaller than what is available per person today in countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, which face the shortage of land..
    (link [dailytimes.com.pk])
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mark-t (151149)

      a concept that promises to reduce the environmental impact of farming

      Thereby freeing up arable land for more "environmentally friendly" endeavors, like factories and housing developments.

      I was thinking virtually the exact same thing, actually. Farming having an undesirable environmental impact? Really, it only limits the availability of land that might be used for other reasons (most of which are far more detrimental to the environment than farming). So, since when is impeding urban sprawl consider

    • Yeah, the "environment impact of farming" on a typical farm, which is mostly covered with a stable ecosystem of plants and animals, is a lot lighter than the impact of a power-sucking, air-conditioned, steel-and-concrete skyscraper.

      How about spending this money on ways to reduce the world's population growth? Lack of arable land is a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself.

      Population growth is only a problem if your basis vectors are skewed. I look at population growth as the goal, and the lack of p
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Funny, a plan for destructive, unrestricted growth with the hopes of eventual relocation reminded me of one thing:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cancer [wikipedia.org] is a disease characterized by a population of cells that grow and divide without respect to normal limits, invade and destroy adjacent tissues, and may spread to distant anatomic sites...

        Trashing our home in the hopes we can get off this rock before the big one hits makes several paranoid and dangerous assumptions. Are you a military man by chance?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by vfrex (866606)
      Wanna stop the world's population growth? Bring everybody's living standard up to the levels of the US and Western Europe. Seeing as that is unlikely to happen, maybe its time for you to drop that useless line of thinking. We're not going to be able to limit population growth any more than we can stop any other human impulse. Along those lines, we're not going to be able to stop people from driving their vehicles as far or using electronics as much. It is the burden of science and technology to find so
  • Eyeballing the Artest Drawing it seems to be about 300ft tall by 100 feet wide circuler, seporated by 7 stories.... So the total planting area is about 1 or 2 acres. So spending millions+ dollars for a building could buy Hundreds+++ of acres just a couple hundred miles north in Upstate NY (Yes Upstate NY does exist and there is farm land there). Even with the cost of shipping to NY City from Upstate NY would be cheaper then having one of those feel good but not useful buildings. Utilities my be self gene
    • The idea I think is that when there are 3 billion more people living on the planet, there might not be enough acres left for farming, so you need to build up to sustain the larger population. Plus they already said that 1 acre in the vertical is equivalent to many more horizontal acres, so the space-efficiency is much greater.
  • Yes... but (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JustASlashDotGuy (905444) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @12:01PM (#19582509)
    .. when you have a solid/dirt floor above every level and buildings on all sides of it, how exactly do you plan to get sunlight into the buildig for the plants to grow? My offices has lots of windows, but when we turn the lights off, it still gets dark in the center.

    And as for "All produce would be organic as there would be no exposure to wild parasites and bugs":

    I suppose that it would be true until a few bugs hitch a ride on the back of some freight. 'Nature finds a way'. Heck, I wouldn't be surpised if we've had a few ants on the space station by now.

  • The article was light on details. Plants need the sun. How does light reach the bottom levels? If you use some type of fiber optics to lower levels, then you have "stolen" the light from the upper levels, and less growth occurs.

    You only get as much solar output as the square footage of the structure. What am I missing?
  • In places where irrigation is difficult, is where this can be very successful. Water is lost to evaporation, but in an enclosed environment, that evaporation can be captured and reused. The middle east also has great sunlight for solar energy for the power needs. I also would not burn the plant waste. Too many nutrients that can be composted and put back into the soil. I like this idea a lot. Maybe not for an urban setting, though.
  • Energy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by pete-classic (75983)
    I love the idea of not trucking (with fossil fuel) produce into urban centers.

    My problem with this is that there simply isn't enough solar energy falling on xm^2 to run a farm of 30xm^2. Doesn't matter how parabolic your solar collector is. I don't buy for a moment that you can make up any significant part of the difference burning the waste plant material. That leaves us grid power . . . which brings us back to fossil fuel. :-(

    -Peter
  • running a farm in New York? Do the tax paying Brits know about this? Is the New York Times running a look at a multi-level Pub in London?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

    Enjoy,
  • Chris Morris made the same one in his Brass Eye TV programme years ago. Anyway, if you have any doubt, from TFA:

    Don't our harvestable plants deserve the same level of "comfort" and protection that we now enjoy?
  • Did people forgot that plants are powered by sunlight?

    Unless we're talking rainforest style vertical farming here (top floor - tree tops, middle floor - monkeys and assorted fruit eating birds, bottom floor - weeds, dead leafs and mushrooms) then the expected result is, as an insightful AC already pointed out - "The top layer is for growing plants, all the bottom layers are for growing mushrooms and cockroaches".

    The only viable way of raising any kind of green plants below the top levels is by using artific
  • by Shihar (153932) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @12:07PM (#19582621)
    While the work the 'students' have done is interesting on an intellectual level, it is a complete farce when it comes to economics. I find it pretty doubtful that crops could even begin to contemplate competing against other land uses like offices, condos, and retail space, especially in urban areas where land costs are through the rough. On top of that, you are going to need to pay the utilities on this monster in addition to shipping in all the equipment and supplies. There is not a slim chance in hell that such a project could be economically viable.

    There is a very good reason why farmers don't construct massive green houses to grow their crops year round; it is too damn expensive. The cost of constructing a green house is pittance compared to the cost of constructing a 30 story building in an urban area. What they are in effect suggesting is not only that you grow all of your food in a green house, but that you do it in a place where land costs are the highest in the world in a structure that costs a few orders of magnitude more then a green house!

    The whole idea is silly. It is a cute intellectual game and if it pays beer money for a few undergrads, great, but paying for undergrad beer money is about as far as this idea is going to go.
    • I suspect what they have in mind is not the major or bulky crops, like wheat and potatoes, but rather the crops that are relatively small, fragile and generally don't ship or store well, like strawberries, blueberries, kiwifruit, and the like. These are also relatively compact plants and more subject to predation from birds and diseases, so a protected environment in limited space is practical. Berries are often grown in tiered greenhouses elsewhere (albeit a single floor with many small tiers, but the prin
  • I looked at this and thought wow. This is such a great idea that it really looks like it's worth some effort to get it implemented.

    Then I thought about what it would cost to devote that kind of prime real-estate in Manhattan to farming. Either the financial return on the crop needs to be very good indeed, or fuel costs for transporting food from conventional farms would have to be high enough to make "skyscraper farms" an attractive alternative.

    And what about pollenation? I'm not a botanist, but I'm gues
  • Problems (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Evets (629327) * on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @12:11PM (#19582683) Homepage Journal
    I see a few problems with the premise of this idea.

    First off - you don't need a skyscraper and certainly you don't need to occupy an entire building. Nobody is going to use an entire building in a place like New York for farming.

    Second - existing farms will not be converted back to forest land. Farms that don't produce crops get subsidized. If it's not a farm, the farmer doesn't make money.

    Third - A professor from a school like Columbia is as likely to revolutionize the farming industry as a professor from the University of Montana is to revolutionize skyscraper architecture.

    If you want to see the future of farming, take a look at what marijuana growers are doing. They seem to be the only farmers truly interested in maximizing output in small spaces in less than ideal conditions.
  • Ultimately, the limiting factor for productivity is solar flux. If you plant the right mix of vegetation, you're pretty much going to use up all the solar energy on a single level.

    So, rooftop gardens are probably a great idea for NYC and other cities, but multi-level gardens don't make much sense unless you put a nuclear power plant somewhere nearby to supply power for artificial lighting.
  • 1. Laborers to harvest the crops probably will have to be paid more than on a traditional farm, because they will be living in the city.

    2. It wouldn't be an advantage to the envirionment of the city in terms of adding more biomass to product more oxygen, etc, since the building would have to be sealed off. It would need pretty stringent controls, like a clean-room.. airlocks, filters, etc, to keep insects and other baddies out.

    3. I like the idea of cutting polution and costs by largely eliminating transpor
  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @12:14PM (#19582757) Homepage

    I once did see something like this that was actually useful. One year, California had a serious drought, and alfalfa for horses was hard to get. So one company sold a hydroponic grass factory. This was a shipping container with a stack of trays and grow lights. Each day you removed and "mowed" one tray, did some maintenance on it, and put it back in the stack to grow new grass. The grow cycle was about three weeks. Not very energy efficient, but needed little water, which was what mattered that year.

    You see smaller trays like that full of alfalfa sprouts at Jamba Juice outlets. Same concept, smaller scale.

    There are some huge indoor farms in Saudi Arabia, where they have sun, space, energy, and money, but limited water and poor soil.

    There's some grumbling in the "eco" community about the "3000 mile salad", and how much energy is used shipping produce around. But in fact, the biggest transportation fuel cost is the SUV trip to the grocery store. If the customer drives further, to the farmer's market, it's even worse. What's actually happening in transportation is that railroads are making a comeback, simply because their energy costs are lower.

  • I wouldn't want it. Aside from looking like an unrealistic exhibit at EPCOT (Every Person Comes Out Tired), and costing a relative fortune compared to flat land, the environmental pollutants in an urban setting far exceed rural farmland. And anyone who doesn't think the food doesn't pickup what's around it simply doesn't know plants. While this would certainly improve the air quality, and even quality of life, in dense cities, the quality of the food produced would be extremely questionable IMSO (In My S
  • Oh Neat-o! (Score:2, Funny)

    by morari (1080535)
    Now city people can know what plants look like as well.
  • by rickkas7 (983760) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @12:32PM (#19583081)
    Growing stuff inside with a high pressure sodium or metal hallide lamp requires about 1000 watts of lighting for a 8' x 8' area (64 sq. ft).

    Going from one of the earlier postings of the building looking like it's about 100 feet in diameter, that's 7,850 sq. ft. per story, or 123 kilowatts per story. If the building is 30 stories tall, we're talking 3.6 megawatts just to run the lights!

    You probably won't have to heat the building, ever, but the air conditioning bill in the summer time would be astronomical.

    Ignoring that whole air conditioning thing, if you were able to get 80 watts per square meter 8 hours a day from solar cells (you wouldn't in NY, but even if you could), you'd need... 17 acres of land covered with solar cells to power the lights!

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