Friday, October 15, 2010

New Vertical Farm Design

The Incheon International Design Awards (IIDA) 2010 Award winners have just been announced on Design Bloom, and one of them is for a vertical farm.  The designers, Benet Dalmau, Saida Dalmau, Anna Julibert, and Carmen Vilar expain: 
We wanted to build a new environmentally-friendly town where the environment is considered as an important part of everyday life.  We propose "Spiral Garden System": a public sustainable place like a green heart, easy to maintain and self-sufficient, created by a joint population that will stimulate social interaction among neighbors...To sum it up, we propose an ecological project in a way to give sustainable change to daily city lives, where humans and nature can coexist.
Sounds great to me!  And after looking at the pictures, I say: Do it!

To read more about this project and other in the IIDA 2010 competition, visit Design Bloom.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Green Right Now Interview with Dickson Despommier

Now that the book has been released, media outlets are increasingly interested in Q &A's with our VF guru, Dr. Despommier.  Below is an excerpt from a recent interview done by Samantha Weinstein of Green Right Now
What would happen if this was put into effect on a grand scale? What would happen to small farmers who are already struggling?
This is what happens already: The farms eventually fail and big corporations step in and say, “It’s okay. I don’t care if your farm fails. We will supply you with seeds and we will pay you a living wage to farm with our seeds.” So you have Monsanto and Cargill and other corporations taking over these small farms. Even if the farms fail on an annual basis for many years, it wouldn’t matter to Cargill because they own so much farmland that 80 percent will succeed regardless. That is why 2 percent of the farmers in the US control 50 percent of the farming. They take advantage of the farms that are already there. They buy their farms and say, “You can stay in business. We will even double the amount of money you made farming, but we want you to farm what we want you to farm.” And some farmers agree to that because they like farming. That’s not a solution though, is it? That’s an industrial application of a failing technology to an increasingly difficult situation where fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides have to be used more and more to produce the same amount of food. It wears out the land and spoils the environment.
To read the interview in its entirety, head on over here.

And if you haven't already, go check out the book

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Grab Your Copy In Bookstores Today!

I began today with a stroll to my local Barnes and Noble.  At long last, I was holding the finished product of over a year of hard work, and let me tell you, it was blissful.

This book is packed full of persuasive prose making the case for a new kind of agriculture.  Pages of shiny images accompany the text, limning the words with carefully selected visual stimulants.  If you don't already have your copy (it's day one, I know, but still...), I highly recommend grabbing one for you and one for your favorite niece or nephew next time you're at the bookstore.  If anything, this book will spark the imagination--and for that alone, it's relevancy is indisputable.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

How to Solve Crisis: Use Less Water

I just came across a brief interview with the Director General of the International Water Management Institute, Dr. Colin Chartres.  The IWMI is one of 15 international research centers supported by something called the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, whose official Vision is: "To reduce poverty and hunger, improve human health and nutrition, and enhance ecosystem resilience through high-quality international agricultural research, partnershp and leadership."  (Seems like the CGIAR ought to have some good reasons to advocate vertical farming.)  Anyway, the part I wanted to share with you was what Dr. Colin Chartres had to say when Nature asked about the worldwide water crisis:
What is causing the crisis?
Agriculture is the biggest user of fresh water, making up 70–90% of the annual water demand for many countries. This will have to change, because global food production is going to have to double over the next 40 years to meet the needs of a growing population. Farmers will have to increase production without using any more water than they do today.
(image from Eco Localizer)
Well all right.  Can anyone think of a proven method of growing more food with less water?  I can.  It's going to be so important to increase the hydroponics education in order for vertical farming to have its best chance at success.  Groups like the Institue of Simplified Hydroponics and Boswyck Farms here in New York are empowering people with this knowledge, and I commend their efforts.  Still, if someone offered lessons to bodies like the IWMI and the CGIAR, I think we might see a broader shift in attitude around hydroponics--and attitudes can go a long way.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


I saw this from Andrew Price over at GOOD magazine.

This "nomadic plant" functions as follows:
Vegetation and microorganisms live in symbiosis inside the body of the Nomadic Plants robot. Whenever its bacteria require nourishment, the self-sufficient robot will move towards a contaminated river and 'drink' water from it. Through a process of microbial fuel cell, the elements contained in the water are decomposed and turned into energy that can feed the brain circuits of the robot. The surplus is then used to create life, enabling plants to complete their own life cycle.
The designer, Gilberto Esparaza, has a history of coming up with projects that make you think twice about the world we live in.  For that, we thank you, Gilberto.  The world benefits when we're pushed to think.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Urban Ag Status Update

It seems like just yesterday I was sitting in a room with Newark's Deputy Mayor, Stephen Pryor, where he voiced Newark's support and pursuit of Vertical Farming in his town--our slogan, it was decided, would be, "Bringing the Garden Back to the Garden State."  Then Chicago's Mayor Daley trumpeted the same message from his mayoral throne, only to announce his abdication from the position a few short months later.  In New York, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has been very consistent in his advocacy for Vertical Farming.  And it makes sense that he should be: New York City is the most densely populated US city with more than 70,000 residents.  Unfortunately, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been more tepid in his support. 

I know it's easy to think that things are very stagnant in this sphere, that the naysayers are winning.  Actually, they're not, and I'm going to look at a few recent initiatives that bode well for our ultimate goal of a Vertical Farm-fed world.

Plantagon Is Cool

On listening to Dr. Despommier's interview on the Diane Rehm Show, it dawned on me that I've never posted anything about an interesting company called Plantagon.  They seem to be interested in effecting the same kind of future as we are here at the Vertical Farm Blog, so they've got our support.  This just goes to show that there's a ton of activity surrounding urban ag.  Which is fantastic. 

Dickson Despommier on the Diane Rehm Show

Tune-in to the Diane Rehm's NPR show today to hear Diane speak with Dr. Despommier and Bob Young, the chief economist with the American Farm Bureau (and its catchy catch-phrase: the voice of agriculture). 
Can't wait to hear how this discussion unfolds.  If you listen to it, write your comments at the bottom of this post, or give DoctorDickson a "tweet" about it, we'd love to hear your thoughts!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Expermenting With Wordle

Wordle: Vertical Farm

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Income Levels and Food Production/Person

This amazing website, Gapminder, has assembled hundreds of thousands of pieces of data into a massive database where you, the user, can compare just about anything you want against just about anything else you want.  Was that clear enough?  If not, check out the website--it's definitely worth it to play around with the graphs yourself. 

Here's one I came up with. (Follow the link, then click the "Play" button in the bottom left hand corner of the graph.)

If this whole operation works how it's supposed to, then the graph you're looking at show the income per capita on the X-axis versus the net production per captia of food--countries USA, India and China are in yellow, blue and red, respectively, each one's 2005 population level reflected in the size of its bubble.  Get used to these graphs, because I'm  sure I'll be coming back to Gapminder again to find some more interesting stories. 

Next graph idea: by country and year, $ spent on fertilizers versus $ spent on crop insurance.  Can a graph highlight the economic wastefulness of our present food system?  I'll come back to this tomorrow.

If you have any good ideas for using Gapminder, please, share them in the comments section below...

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Boat + Botanic = ?

(Photo from David Report and also here.)

I just caught wind of Boatanic, a company created, as its website puts it,
...When [we] were walking around Amsterdam and realised that the typical tourist boat resembles a greenhouse. What if you replaced tourists with basil or tomatoes? The Boatanic was born.
Sounds great to me.  Why don't we float some greenhouses down our canals?  And while we're at it, let's power them with sun and wind energy, and maybe even integrate the food float with one of Mitchell Joachim's River Gyms.  Anyway, let's keep these good ideas flowing, and let's get some deep pockets convinced that creativity in food production is what it's going to really take to propel our species into the future.  We might be fine today, but if McDonald's wins over vertical farms and greenhouse boats, our grandchildren will never know the beauty of real food

What do you think?  How much would you pay to float through Amsterdam on one of these greenhouse boats?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


The FAO of the United Nations has recently launched a campaign to get people riled up about the one billion stomachs that don't get enough to eat. 

If you want to sign the petition (like I did), head on over here and make your voice be heard.

(Caveat: with all its resources, this viral campaign is the least the UN FAO can do to stop the terrible, terrible inequity which is the 21st Century hungry human.)

Guest Blogger Series: Intelligence at the Supermarket

Leading up to the release of the book (available for pre-order on, the Vertical Farm Blog will be accepting guest blog entries via email ( from our readers around the world.  The only condition is that your submission has to touch on some aspect of vertical farming--be it multi-use buildings or conscientous shopping choices--and it would be great if you could include pictures (people love pictures). 

The first article in our series is written by Dan Grifen, a blogger over at Everything Left.  Take it away, Dan.

Sustainability Through the Consumption of Things Conserved
"In other environmental issues we tell people to stop something, reduce their impact, reduce their damage," - US Ecologist Gary Nabhan

Since the beginning of the green movement, there has been a rise in the number of organizations and businesses that are doing their part in the promotion of sustainability through conservation. As human beings, we're told to reduce our carbon footprint, consume less unhealthy foods, and spend less time in the shower! But let's take a minute to step back and look at this from a different perspective; one that Gary Nabhan strongly suggests.

Gary Paul Nabhan, PhD., is a Arab-American writer/conservationist whose extensive farming work in the U.S./Mexico borderlands region has made him world renowned. Specifically speaking, Nabhan is known for his work in biodiversity as an ethnobotanist. His uplifting messages and attitude towards life and culture has granted us access to multiple beneficial theories including his latest of eat what you conserve.

According to The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, about three quarters of the genetic diversity of crops been vanishing over the last century and that a dozen species now gives 90% of the animal protein eaten globally. In accordance, just 4 crop species supply half of plant based calories in the human diet.

Nabhan claims that by eating the fruits and vegetables that we are attempting to conserve/save, we're promoting the granular dissemination of various plant species. But this goes beyond what we typically buy in supermarkets, particularly because of price and abundance. We must remember to try new things and immerse ourselves in the very concept of diversity. Keep in mind- the benefits of splurging for that costly fruit/vegetable supremely outweigh the cons. Not only are you promoting biodiversity and further eliminating the needs of farmers to remove rare, less purchased crops off their agenda, but you're also effectively encouraging healthier lifestyles.

Agriculturist Marco Contiero mentioned, "Biodiversity is an essential characteristic of any sustainable agricultural system, especially in the context of climate change."[1] With sustainable crop efforts being lead by the CGI (Clinton Global Initiative) and the IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) the duo plans to provide a more sustainable crop that can withstand natural disasters, avoiding food shortages like Haiti is experiencing. Contiero goes on to state "We need to ensure this is the basis for the future…" – This is exactly what Doug Band, the CGI, and the IRRI are doing by engaging in sustainability efforts.

So remember, next time you're in the supermarket picking out a common varietal of navel oranges or strawberries, turn your attention to something that's a bit more exotic in nature. The same goes for salads/salad ingredients; shop outside the norm, picking spices and vegetables that you wouldn't normally incorporate into your everyday diet. During such economic downtime it isn't always easy to maintain the same level of grocery shopping intrigue, but we must also not forget that in this sundry of foods we can find fun!

Dan Grifen – Supporter of all things green and progressive.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Turn Plastic Into Oil

A Japanese man and his company, Blest, have been touring the globe showing off a little machine they invented which can turn plastic garbage back into oil.

As the video describes, plastics are made from oil, so why shouldn't we be able to turn plastics back into oil once we're through with them?  This is great thinking.  Why do we dump tons and tons of plastic waste into landfills (and oceans) every day, when the technology currently exists to reclaim the energy in that waste and turn it into fuel?

Plastic waste, the video says, "are a treasure."  I'm not sure why our species is so good at squandering.

Share your thoughts...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

More Newark News

Remember Newark?  Well, Dan Albert and Peter Greaves of Weber Thompson recently issued a press release detailing a bit more about their involvement with getting a vertical farm up and running in Brick City.  I'll let them tell you:
July 23, 2010
At a time when the world ponders how to feed its nine billion people, Seattle architects Weber Thompson have designed a Vertical Farm for the Garden State to help solve that problem. The Newark Vertical Farm (NVF) a radically new prototype for Newark, NJ, illustrates the ideas promoted by Dr. Dickson Despommier for an approach to high capacity controlled environment urban farming. Principal Peter David Greaves, AIA, LEED AP and Ecological Designer Dan Albert, Associate ASLA, LEED AP and Dr. Despommier made a presentation of the design to government officials including Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Stefan Pryor and City Councilman Donald Payne, Jr., along with leaders from the Greater Newark Conservancy and Brick City Development Corporation.
The term “Vertical Farm” was originally coined by Dr. Dickson Despommier at Columbia University. The vertical farming concept begins with a simple idea: grow food in a climate-controlled multistory building free of pollutants, pesticides and seasons while producing the highest-quality produce in an urban environment. The Vertical Farm, designed to supplement the existing food supply while bringing more healthful products to our cities, is but one of a host of solutions needed to address the complexities of bringing food to people. Despommier envisions buildings filled with stacked soil-less growing systems designed to produce the maximum yield and eliminate contamination. This concept has been illustrated by designs ranging from 10-story structures to dragonfly wing-inspired behemoths that tower over Manhattan.
The Newark Vertical Farm represents not only the next generation for Urban Agriculture and Vertical Farming but also an approach to design which incorporates integrated and overlapping sustainable design features. More than just a Vertical Farm, it is a research and development program for sustainable design in an urban context. It is an open system designed to attract any number of features for both demonstration and research into the best ideas for sustainable design of our cities. Both a demonstration project and a laboratory, NVF is envisioned to be a flexible armature for uses relating to vertical farming, urban agriculture, sustainable design and energy efficiency. The main building contains the vertical greenhouse, and research labs separated by a full height atrium for light and ventilation. The greenhouse space contains high intensity soilless growing systems and is designed to be flexible and adaptable. The ground floor showcases a demonstration green house for public interaction while the upper floors serve as an agricultural laboratory. The purpose of the building is to develop, test, and educate with the ultimate goal of a commercially viable building type. 
The site is also designed to showcase sustainable site strategies in an urban environment. The buildings and the site are oriented to maximize solar exposure, with the Vertical Farm green house section facing due south and the more conventional urban agriculture plot with south to north rows. The spaces are arranged in a series of overlapping rooms that allow both observation and function to coexist. The parcel is organized to create numerous opportunities for both demonstration and research platforms relating to the study of vertical farming, urban agriculture, urban gardens, water conservation, constructed wetlands, on-site power generation, and more. The site, like the buildings, is designed to attract a range of uses and to be adaptable as these uses evolve over time. 
Dr. Despommier, Peter Greaves and Dan Albert have spoken of the Vertical Farm concept and emerging ideas about urban agriculture at a number of conferences including The King County Government Confluence and the Living Futures 2010 unConference. Dr. Despommier and Dan Albert will also be on a panel this coming fall at the Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design on September 29th in New York, NY. This is the second prototype vertical farm structure designed by Weber Thompson. Their Eco-Laboratory project has won numerous national and regional awards. 
Dr. Dickson Despommier is the author of The Vertical Farm: Feeding Ourselves and the World in the 21st Century to be released by Thomas Dunne Books / St. Martin’s Press on October 12, 2010. 
For more information on the rationale behind Vertical Farms please see: 
A new use for urban high-rises: farming by Dan Albert 
The Vertical Farm Project - Dickson Despommier 

To top it off, they've released pictures of what their finished project might look like.  They're sweet.

(all images: Copyright © 2010 Weber Thompson, PLLC All Rights Reserved)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pulled Pork with Pickled Red Onions and Black Rice

Pork shoulder is a cut of meat that is often overlooked. Perhaps because of its sheer size, which requires that it be cooked for a lonnnnnng time. As in 4 hours. To be exact, it's 4 excruciating hours of hovering around the oven as the tantalizing aroma of slow-roasted pork taunts your tastebuds. But once you take the first bite of the tender porky goodness, foiled by the pungent tang of the pickled red onions, you realize that you've never had 4 hours better spent. The avocado provides the perfect mellow reprieve from the heat and tartness, and the black rice provides a nutty base and turns this dish into a one bowl meal (but you can use whatever vehicle you want - eg. taco shell, tortilla, bread)

Pulled Pork
Mix up a spice rub to your own taste. I used salt, pepper, garlic powder, cayenne, and paprika.
Rub spice mix all over the pork shoulder. Use a heavy hand in seasoning the pork (look at how BIG it is!)
Place pork shoulder in a roasting pan. Cover tightly with foil and into a 350 F preheated oven. Roast for 4 hours. (no cheating!)

Pickled Red Onions
Slice red onions real thin.
Pour a cup of very hot water over onions. Drain water after 30 seconds.
Squeeze juice of one lime into non-reactive bowl and add drained red onions. Cover and refrigerate while the pork's-a-roastin'.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Billion Dollar Home Employs Hydroponics for Energy Efficiency

Mukesh Ambani, the Indian billionaire ranked 5th on the Forbes list of richest men, is devoting part of he and his family's 27-story home in Mumbai to growing hydroponics crops.  You might wonder, Why?  Well, unfortunately, it's not because Ambani is actively endorsing vertical farming, like some other well-known men.  No, instead, it's primarily an economic concern:
Hanging vertical gardens dot the exterior. While they make for good decoration, their key function has to do with energy efficiency: The hydroponic plants, grown in liquid nutrient solutions instead of soil, lower the energy footprint of the home by absorbing heat and sunlight and providing shade that helps keep it cool.
The architecture firms of Perkins + Will and Hirsch Bedner Associates are responsible for the design of this $2 billion skyscraper home, so I think we can safely assume that hydroponics is catching on as a financially viable design element within the architecture community.  We'll take it.

This massive complex won't be considered a vertical farm, not even close.  But it certainly will add to the growing body of work demonstrating that the ideas we've been promoting for the past decade are, in fact, the ideas for our cities' future.  With each 27-story billionaire's home that integrates any element of what a vertical farm will perform, the chorus of support grows louder and louder.  

Do you know of any similar developments that we should share with our readers?  Let us know via  

(Check out the full story (and pictures!) here)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Reforming the Chicken

Dana Blankenhorn over at Smart Planet published a nice article about the FDA taking some initial steps to curb our outrageous food system towards something more sustainable, humane and less fattening.  Here's an excerpt from it:
We’re fat because we are reacting rationally to the incentives government has placed in the food supply market. These incentives favor quantity over quality, protein over vegetables, and things like corn syrup over cane sugar.
Change the incentives in the production and manufacturing of food, I argue, and consumers will respond. Just saying “eat healthy” when you have an unhealthy production system won’t get the job done.
I recommend heading over there to check it out.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


=Roasted Beets + Fried Egg

Scrub beet. Wrap beet in foil, skin and all. Roast beet in 400 degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove foil (carefully!). Wash beet under cold water and scrape off skin with spoon. Dice beet and mix with vinegar, dijon mustard, minced garlic, salt and pepper. Top with fried egg, however you like it. Break egg yolk and enjoy slowly.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Big Fish, Small Pond

We’ve all seen it before – the massive, globe-like apples at the grocery store, strawberries the size of your fist, and peaches that give James and his peach a run for their money. Genetically modified food, or fruit in particular, is ubiquitous in our grocery stores. We're so used to seeing it around, that organic produce looks languid in comparison. But the second you put that GM strawberry in your mouth, you will the difference. Unlike the dewy rubies you used to pick from your backyard, the GM variety lacks that tangy, fragrant strawberry flavor you grew up with.

So main concern when I heard that genetically altered salmon would be hitting my local seafood counter was what the hell it would taste like. I have unnerving visions of pallid, flavorless sushi and bland lox bagels. What do you think it'll taste like?

Chicago's Mayor Daley Wants One Too!

Thrilled at the notion of growing healthy food just blocks from where he spent his childhood, Chicago's Mayor Richard M. Daley said last Friday that he would support efforts to establish vertical farming in his hometown.  Who will be first, Newark, Chicago, or somewhere else, I don't know.  But the race is on!

Read the full story at Journal Sentinal Online.

Update: check out Plant Chicago, the group pushing for VF in Chicago.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Offally Delicious

Pig ears, smoked tripe, chicken neck, and braised gizzards. As I scanned the items in the deli fridge at the Chinese supermarket on Walker St., it became obvious very quickly that I wouldn’t be finding roasted turkey much less any American cheese. To my delight the fridge was chock-full of all the bits, pieces, odds, and ends that never make it into deli counters at American supermarkets. Even duck tongues made an appearance.

In recent years, with chefs like Chris Cosentino popularizing all things offal, eating a plate of spicy honeycomb tripe at David Chang’s Momofuku has become a sorta right-of-passage in the ‘cool’ kids club in the foodie world. Now that offal has become a mainstay at fine-dining establishments everywhere, when do you think we’ll start seeing it at our local grocery stores?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Vertical Farming Gets...Stung?

It's been terribly hard to keep this a secret, but now it's finally out: Sting has acquired the movie rights to the Vertical Farm Book!  Check out Deadline, where the news broke first.

Basically, wherever the first vertical farm gets built, Sting has first dibs at making a documentary about it.  Who knows, with Newark chomping at the bit, he might not have to wait long.  

Also check out the Rainforest Fund, which he and wife Trudie founded.

BP Spill and VF

I hope we’re all still outraged over the BP oil spill.  I hope that those people out there who call this the Age of Indifference are wrong.  I hope this catastrophe doesn’t get forgotten in all the miscellaneous hoop-la. 

If you watched President Obama’s speech last week, you were probably left a little bewildered.  What exactly is the plan?  This oil accident is profoundly devastating to local economies which rely on a non-oil-laden ocean; hopefully, BP will recoup them for current and projected future losses.  But this oil spill affects us all.

I have to admit, part of me is concerned that this is a spill from which the world will never recover.  I thought how ironic it would be if this were the end of man; no atomic bomb, no massive sea level rise (by the way, what’s the deal with Al Gore?), no meteor; just an accident from capitalism as usual.  But then I looked at a world map: Earth is BIG.  It will recover; however, whether we’re fit to stick around is another matter. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What's in a Twinkie?

The people over at GOOD have tipped me off to a fantastic photo project done by Dwight Eschliman: "37 Or So Ingredients," a visual tour of what it takes to make a Twinkie.  I can't claim immunity to the sweet, sweet spongy deliciousness of Twinkies, or to most of the other Hostess deserts.  But these pictures will at least make me think twice.

Also, it's worth noting how insane it is that there's a company bringing in over two and a half billion dollars in revenue in a given year, who markets and sells products which do nothing but increase the waistline and the blood pressure of the country.  I really don't think I'm going out on much of a limb with this one: The world would be a better place if Twinkies didn't exist.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

CNN Highlights Hydroponics

Watch the whole video to see our friends at the Science Barge and Lee Mandell of Boswyck Farms.

I think it's time hydroponics has a serious PR makeover. Anyone want to help me?

Monday, May 17, 2010

It's Happening in Newark

This is very big news.

Last Monday, a group of government officials and businessmen gathered to hear a proposal for bringing vertical farming to the Garden State.  In attendance were Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Stefan Pryor and City Councilman Donald Payne, Jr, along with leaders from the Greater Newark Conservancy and Brick City Development Corporation, among other groups.  Dan Albert and Peter Greaves of Weber Thompson presented their site-specific project, which was inspired by their original Eco-Laboratory drawings, and the room sparkled at each change of the slide, as, one by one, the guests all fell for vertical farming.

After the presentation, Councilman Payne proclaimed, "This is something that should happen here," to which Deputy Mayor Pryor answered, "Absolutely.  I agree." 

Here It Is, the Book

First of all, everyone should pre-order their copy of Dr. Despommier's upcoming book. October 12th is the release date listed on and, so I assume you'd get your copies right around the middle of that month. I bet that everyone has a special niece or uncle or sister or grandpa who would love this book, so maybe pre-ordering a couple copies is a good move.

Can't wait to hear what people have to say once it drops.

All Apologies

Hello, loyal readers. The recent slack in blog posts will cease now. I can imagine that it's been difficult without someone keeping you up to date on all the goings-on around vertical farming, but I'm back, so here we go. Stringent chronology may be sacrificed as I recap the past month.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Earthday Round the Corner

On this, the eve's eve of the 40th anniversary of Earthday, we should remember to still celebrate what April 22nd, 1970 was a call for. It was a call to improve the quality of life on Earth, to engage politicians, musicians, writers, business leaders and anyone else breathing, that the planet is a prerequisite to our own lives, and that beautifying it beautifies us.

So when John Tierney of the New York Times wrote an article--"7 New Rules to Live By"--I was struck that he did not mention vertical farming. You see, vertical farming is simply a creative expression of the solution to a handful of man-made problems: climate change, hunger, water scarcity, species extinction, all of these are problems whose solutions lie in producing daily behaviors that are in line with the world we hope to produce. So the first question is, What kind of world do we want to produce?

I'll start.

Josh Tickell on Jay Leno

Josh Tickell, whose movie, Fuel, illustrates a path for discarding our nation's oil crutch for energy needs, was interviewed on Jay Leno about one year ago.  Leno seems especially enthralled by the notion of a solution in vertical farms.  So that this clip doesn't gather cobwebs, I'll share it here, where hopefully it will be something pleasant to some, and something at least remarkable to most. 

Leno Hosts FUEL Director Josh Tickell from Stacy Hess on Vimeo.
(Video courtesy of Vimeo.) 

If there's one thing to take away from this, it's that good ideas are sticky.  That means that the most important thing that supporters of vertical farming can do is tell people about it.  Tell someone a good idea, and it will stick there, like planting a seed, and then germinate when one hears the idea again and again.  If we spread this idea like gigantic wings, then it will fly.    

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Quite Right Food Panel Night

This past Thursday, on April 8th, Leonard Lopate of WNYC hosted a panel discussion on everyone's favorite topic: urban farming.  Panel members included friends of Vertical Farming Annie Novak of Greenpoint Rooftop Farm and Manhattan Borough President, Scott Stringer, as well as urban ag all star Will Allen of Growing Power in Milwaukee, and artist Fritz Haeg, who created Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn, a book documenting the urban food movement around the country. 

I've got to be honest--I haven't watched the whole thing.  But I wouldn't be surprised if Vertical Farming came up in this discussion.  Scott Stringer has made it very clear that he wants to have Vertical Farms in New York, and Will Allen is actually working on a sort of low-tech Vertical Farm outside of Milwaukee.  (From what I understand, he is converting an abandoned warehouse into another of his urban food oases.) 

Watch the whole conversation (87 minutes, heads up) on the Green Space (WNYC's studio for stuff like this) website here.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Vertical Farming on Huffington Post

Just thought I'd share that Huff Po is featuring a "Vote For Your Favorite VF" article complete with pictures of some Vertical Farm designs.  Check it out and vote.  I'm interested to see the results. 

Valcent's VertiCrop system somehow made it into the running, but let's not get confused: what they're doing is cool, but it's not Vertical Farming.  No greywater remidiation, no waste-to-energy recapture, single story, etc. etc. etc.  I know they're trying to capitalize on the buzz surrounding the VF name, which makes sense, but it's just a little too transparent for me. 

Monday, March 15, 2010

Why Are Hamburgers So Cheap?

Really though, why?  The subsidies are part of it, of course.  And the subsidies have to do with what we want to export: there's more money to be made exporting meat and wheat than cucumbers.  Part of it is economies of scale: the b. model of McDonald's requires that there be thousands of locations to keep their prices so low.  

Can we do anything about it?

Fortunately, yes.  In capitalism, a dollar is a vote.  As long as money makes the world go round and people use cliches, a person's consumer behavior is meaningful.  Spending money responsibly and "being the change you wish to see" are the best bet I think.  The deeper issue, and the one that McDonald's would use in its defense, is that people like hamburgers more than salads.  Is that true?  Is it changeable?

Update: Annie Leonard over at The Story of Stuff uses the term "manufactured demand" to discuss how bottled water companies convince people to buy their inferior-to-tap-water product.  I think the term is great, and it obviously applies to the cheap hamburger discussion.  

(Thanks to GOOD and PCRM for this story).

Saturday, March 13, 2010

How Can We Feed Everyone?

How to feed the world ? from Denis van Waerebeke on Vimeo.

Check out more from Fast Company.  Is anybody still surprised that a global commodities market widens the gap between rich and poor, fed and unfed? 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Feast Your Eyes

On this.

Complete with ETFE, it's good by me. 

(Design by Rahul Surin)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Dickson Despommier, A Top-Tenner for Inspiration in Sustainable Food

Fast Company, a forward-thinking design, technology and business magazine, just published their top-ten list of "Most Inspirational People in Sustainable Food."  And guess what: Dick Despommier made the grade.  About the Vertical Farm guru, they say:
The Vertical Farm Project is the brainchild of Despommier, a professor at Columbia, and his students. Envisioning a world of sustainable farms housed in urban skyscrapers, the project proposes paying traditional farmers to simply plant trees on their land, in an attempt to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Crazy? Maybe. But it's inspiring more thought, more solutions.
Really, this is no surprise.  News outlets from the New York Times to Icon Magazine have covered the Dr. and Vertical Farms.  He's galvanized urban farmers and rooftop dreamers all over the world.  The creativity that skyscraper farms inspire will not be undercut by the broken-record arguments of those who think every feasable good idea already exists.  For Vertical Farming, it looks like its time has finally come. 

Friday, February 26, 2010

Could Manhattan Feed Manhattan?

Hop on over to Droog's website to learn more about the designers behind this video.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

2010: The Year of Urban Agriculture

My home town of Seattle announced earlier this month that the first year of the new decade will be dubbed, The Year of Urban Agriculture.  This is great news.

With the city helping to make local food more abundant and accessible, we should expect the coming months to be filled with urban farmers coming out of the woodworks to try their hand at sustainable food--expect everything from rooftop farms to countertop gardens to vertical farms.   Urban ag is happening all over the country; I think it's time for everyone to brashly borrow all the good ideas out there and make something--anything!--happen at any scale.  I haven't learned a single syllable from movements, political or otherwise, over the last 2 years if not that the team which jumps through the moon at every minor victory is far more likely to skid and crash than the relentless, billowing one.  We must not now underestimate the power of the status quo. 

But with this commitment from Seattle, plus the commitment from New York City more recently, I have a feeling 2010 will be more than just the year of urban agriculture: 2010 is the year the status quo adds Vertical Farming to the mix.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Manhattan Beefs Up Its Urban Ag Support

Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer announced today a broad "sustainable food plan" promoting urban agriculture.  From Mr. Stringer:  
“By devoting serious attention to our food system, city government can in one stroke improve public health, sustainability, and job creation...In recent years, there’s been growing interest in this issue, but we’re still left with a grab bag of disjointed, independent initiatives.  Now, with the help of hundreds of dedicated New Yorkers, the document we’re releasing today will for the first time present a single, comprehensive vision for food policy in this city."
This, on the heels of an article on aquaponics in the New York Times, gives those of us in the urban agriculture field reason to celebrate; we celebrate because the government has finally formally acknowledged how promising urban agriculture can be; but we must also become more vocal, because it's at times like these, when change is imminent, when something we all want to happen actually could happen, when we have public sentiment and government on our side, that we must follow-through like a Federer forehand.  

See the whole story, and the entire document, here.  

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Future of Farming: There Is Nowhere To Go But Up

In Salinas, California, Gary Caraccioli wakes up every morning by 5 a.m. and drives for 30 minutes through a bed of tulle fog so thick, he cannot see the purple mountains that flank the highway. This is the only route to get to his farm in Gonzales.  He spends anywhere from 5 to 10 hours a day driving on muddy dirt roads in a Chevy truck between vast, flat, fields of emerald and neon greens and chocolate brown soil to keep track of his lettuce crop’s growth and his employee’s progress. When he isn’t driving, Caraccioli is conducting business meetings, or working in his office to make sure that his farm is running efficiently.

The Salinas Valley, touted as the “Salad Bowl of the World,” cultivates 80 percent of the world’s lettuce and produces 580 billion pounds of produce annually. Thousands of farmers, like Caraccioli, continue an orthodox method of farming by leasing out large plots of land and planting and harvesting in bulk. At Caraccioli’s ranch, which consists of the grower L&J Farms and labor provider Jackpot Harvesting, they cover 3500 acres of crops and ship 250,000 boxes of produce from their land daily.
(Laborers Harvesting Asparugus, Salinas, CA; Courtesy Amber Sandoval-Griffin)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Concrete Jungles Destroying the Wooden Ones

(Borneo. Photo from here.)

David Biello, from Scientific American, says, in his most recent article, that
A statistical analysis of 41 countries revealed that forest loss rates are most closely linked with urban population growth and agricultural exports...even overall population growth was not as strong a driver.
Deforestation has always been considered a major culprit in climate change--as forests disappear, so too does the Earth's ability to self-regulate temperature--but this article, and the accompanying scholarly paper, paint a clear picture of the root cause of all this tree felling: urbanization. Interesting.

Friday, February 5, 2010

3x3 Farm Box

I've just caught wind of Australian industrial designer, Xavier Calluaud's, Urb Garden (clever; get it?), and thought I should share it with you. Touted as, "A vertical food garden for the urban gardener," this product (not yet available commercially) offers a way to grow a little food in a little space, in 9 little modular cubes.

Although we Vertical Farmers much prefer higher-tech systems like Plasma Arc Gasification to composting, the Urb Garden looks great for refurbishing a drab deck or kitchen area while also saving on food costs and cutting waste from food packaging. I'll say it again and again: I'm on board with anyone who wants to decentralize food production and increase urban farming.

(Story via Greenmuze)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

High Steaks Gamblin'

A country's meat consumption increases with its GDP per capita, but what happens to a country when foreign bankers make cold, hard wagers on its future food prices? The Food and Water Watch, a consumer NGO headquartered in Washington DC, published this report in November, 2009, which provides a startling look at the connection between Wall Street's investments (read: speculation) in the future prices of commodities--including food--and the sharp rise in global hunger attributable to higher food prices.