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Farming in skyscrapers: fantasy or necessity?

Artist's rendition of the interior of a vertical farm.
Artist's rendition of the interior of a vertical farm.
Chris Jacobs

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It takes a plot of farmland the size of Virginia to feed New York City, and the food problem is worldwide. With over 80% of the world’s agriculturally-suitable land in use and the UN’s projection that the world's population will rise from the current 6.8 billion to 9.1 billion by 2050, the way we feed ourselves is not sustainable. But horticulture experts abroad and environmental scientists at home have a surprise solution—indoor farms in skyscrapers. These so-called vertical farms are designed to out-produce conventional farms by 11-30% all without plow, tractors, herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers. Because all water and nutrients are to be recycled, the only thing that will leave the vertical farm building is produce. In countries with crowded cities and almost no arable land—like the Arab Emirates—there will also be no shipping costs: the vertical farm will be a farmer’s market surrounded by grocery shoppers. Bean plants on the 90th floor—is this the future of food?


Dickson Despommier, Ph.D., professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University and author of The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century

Gertjan Meeuws, managing partner, Plantlab, which is already creating vertical farms in the Netherlands