Pyramind Farm by Eric Ellingsen and Dickson Despommier
Many people talk about how land use isn’t sustainable, but an emerging technology could soon be changing that. Human population centers are expected to continue to grow even with stagnating birthrates. That means that eventually a larger percentage of people will live in urban areas. Cities will probably start to spill out into the surrounding areas in the same way that they have in the past.
That means that farmland will start to suffer in the near future. Traditional farming practices will continue to need increasingly larger plots of land to produce sufficient food stocks to feed these cities. Poor planning will probably cause the erosion of even larger areas. Naturally, there won’t be enough land to go around. Therefore, people might begin to build vertical farms.
While the idea of growing crops in small plots on the sides of buildings isn’t anything new, dedicating entire skyscrapers to cultivation isn’t something that’s been tried on a large scale yet. These might become fixtures of cities in the near future. They’re more or less based around a radical application of modern technology. Engineers currently possess the ability to construct them. They’re a completely realistic idea.
There are, however, a few caveats. It takes a significant amount of power to pump water into tall towers. While several stories usually don’t present too much of a problem, increasingly large skyscrapers make plumbing an issue. Water reuse has long been promoted in office buildings, but it’s a little harder when the water is being used for irrigation. Hydroponic designs that capture moisture and recycle it might help solve this problem.
On the other hand, it also presents new opportunities. Pesticides have been a major concern in the last few years. People don’t want toxic material in their food, and runoff from farms is a source of pollution. Crops grown indoors, however, would have no need for pesticides since pests could be kept outside. Anaerobic digester technology could help stave off some of the energy use problems. Free light from the sun could filter in, though it would need to be supplemented. Ironically enough, solar panels might very well power the supplements.
If vertical farming really takes off, even the densest urban areas could grow crops. This would actually end up saving a lot of energy, since transportation would no longer be an issue. The local farmstead might be reborn in a very futuristic package.