Vertical Farming Might be Taking Off in Urban Areas

Pyramind Farm by Eric Ellingsen and Dickson Despommier

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.

  • Vertical Farming Might be Taking Off in Urban Areas | wired cosmos #sustainability

  • This idea has been around for a while, and I’ve found it appealing. However, I’ve recently read The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan about the dust bowl in the 1930s, which illustrates our ambition to conquer nature doesn’t always work out well. Would intensive indoor farming be good or bad for the environment? Does it use more or less water? What is the carbon impact? Does it free up more land for natural land use?

    • Jason Carr

      All valid questions Jim and to my knowledge, there have been no large-scale studies that have provided answers. When I was researching this I came across this article:

      The authors raise additional and valid questions although calling this concept a failure is premature. There are some interesting vertical farming projects happening in Singapore right now. It will be interesting to see how they turn out in years ahead.

  • Great article Jason. I’ll have to keep a look out for this type of tech. It seems like a slam dunk. Ideally I would think you would see a ‘neighborhood market’ of sorts on the ground floor where people could purchase freshly grown food.

    When you combine this with a co-op type of program then you really get some benefits.

    • Jason Carr

      LOVE the idea of the neighborhood market Randy. There’s a lot of potential with this if it can be done correctly for sure. Perhaps the government will someday give incentives or tax-breaks for building owners that retrofit their buildings for this purpose. The co-op idea is spot on. I find the entire concept both fascinating and exciting and hope to see it take off sooner rather than later.

  • Khaled Majouji

    Very interesting article. Im quite happy to see that you are giving the idea a chance. You are totally right to, the benefits are too many to ignore.

    My company has develloped a vertical farming system thats unique and by far the most efficient so far. The main problem seems to be growing anything beyond leafy greens, and this originates from structures that are too weak to support anything beyond salad.

    The original concept of a 100 million dollars to feed 50 000 people is indeed unrealistic, but there are other ways to do it, at a fraction of that price, and much more efficiently.

    My system grows 90% of all produce we consume and does so in a large-enough-quantities-to-feed-populations way.

    Lots of people designing vertical farming systems have lost sight of the most important factor: cost of production. Without a lower cost than current field farming, this idea will never take off.

    My system grows produce that is pesticide and herbicide free, is highly nutritional, picked only when ripe. Furthermore, it does so at a fraction of the price of current lower quality foods.

    It, in essence, renders GMOs obsolete.

    I am available to provide more information for those interested in learning more. I can be reached at

    Khaled Majouji,
    President,. In.Genius group

    • Jason Carr

      Thanks so much Khaled! Please share any thoughts on the questions posed above if your time permits. I’d be interested in getting an insider’s perspective on this.

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