Vertical Farms. A Panacea or Unrealistic?

The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century by Dr. Dickson Despommier.

Despommier’s ideas have been stirring around urban agriculture and environmental communities for years. I am excited to read about his innovative theories and strategies in his new book. However, as an experienced urban and rural farmer, I’m skeptical about the finer points of vertical farming.  I want to know how vertical farms will provide sufficient sunlight for plants, enough nutrient rich soil, and how pests and diseases will be dealt with from season to season. I agree that cities have untapped potential, but I think we need to examine the resources we already have and utilize them, rather than building all new structures that we hope will produce plentifully. As any farmer worth their salt knows, we can plan, but mother nature makes the rules. In a vertical farming model, mother nature is relegated to a greatly reduced role and I’m unsure how effective this can be. I hope I am wrong to be so wary of this concept though, because I can see the great benefit it could afford us. I will report back with my thoughts on this book and I hope everyone reading will take the opportunity to do the same.

George Monbiot’s critique of Despommier’s book.

City Farmer’s link to this book.

2 Comments on Vertical Farms. A Panacea or Unrealistic?

  1. I find your skepticism refreshing. Here in Tokyo there are plenty of stories of people trying to do vertical farming. I, like you, applaud efforts at innovative growing techniques as well as urban growth of the agricultural kind; however, I also see a massive red flag as you put it “mother nature is relegated to a greatly reduced role.” It seems to me we need to work with her more than anything in order to effectively feed ourselves and offer future generations opportunities for growth (of the agricultural kind). I look forward to your post!

    • Joan,

      This post was put up by my great new partner/administrator Jen Kline.

      Personally I am sympathetic to your views, agree with them intuitively, and appreciate the skepticism as well.

      But I have also been trying to challenge myself to justify my own beliefs about where the line should be drawn in terms of technological control in farming.

      All farming is a manipulation of nature in some way. Conventional breeding/selection which has produced most of the crops we eat is a ‘manipulation of nature’. And pretty much all farmers use technology in some form to produce their crops. So, to take an extreme example: how can we justify the hoe, and reject the vertical farming system on ideological grounds? The question is rhetorical, of course, but I think it’s an important one to ask ourselves, and one I struggle with personally.

      I am a great believer in Fukuoka’s philosophy (as espoused in his brilliant book ‘One Straw Revolution’), as well as Wes Jackson’s and those of others who advocate ‘farming in nature’s image.

      I believe that through our blind and arrogant adherence to the ‘culture of technical control’, we seem to be sowing the seeds of our own destruction. And I think we know far to little about the intricacies of ecological systems to replicate them a way that doesn’t rely far too heavily on the use of finite ‘resources’ to be truly sustainable.

      But I also believe that we tend to create a false dichotomy in our separation of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’. We are part of nature (she is us, and we are her), so aren’t all of our actions ‘natural’ in some way? (Again rhetorical).

      Anyway, thank you for your thoughts. To me, they seem to capture the conundrum of modernity in a simple yet profound way.


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