Dickson Despommier 2015-02-23 23:30:24
I began my professional career as a laboratory scientist in the field of medical parasitology, investigating the molecular biology of an infectious foodborne nematode, Trichinella spiralis. During the course of my studies, over more than 30 years, I became increasingly aware that food safety and security are linked to issues of food availability, and ultimately to agricultural practices. Now that I am no longer at the research bench, my attention has shifted to understanding the details of ecosystem ecology and the negative effects that traditional farming is having on ecosystem services and functions. I have also become aware that there is a direct connection between rapid climate change, fossil fuel use, and deforestation that favors the establishment of more farmland. That is when I began exploring potential solutions that could reduce the rapid (i.e., anthropogenic) part of climate change. The concept of raising significant amounts of food indoors using hydroponics and aeroponics (collectively known as controlled environment agriculture, or CEA) appeared to offer great promise in that regard. CEA can be carried out anywhere on Earth, it is not affected by the weather, it uses significantly less water than conventional farming, it produces no agricultural runoff, and it can produce a wide variety of crops indoors at commercial scale. I began to incorporate these concepts into my teaching, and after some ten years of brainstorming in the classroom, the idea of the vertical farm became a reality. As of 2014, there are many examples of vertical farms in Japan, Korea, Singapore, Sweden, and the U.S., with many more in the planning stage. In the coming years, I expect that there will be hundreds, even thousands, of vertical farms in operation throughout the world. This is because retrofitting disused buildings into functional vertical farms has become much easier. The recent dramatic increase in the energy efficiency of LED grow lights—from 28% to 68%—is also very encouraging and can greatly reduce the energy costs of indoor farming. I have been fortunate to be in on the ground floor of the vertical farming movement, so I am often asked to give presentations on the subject. In addition, I have traveled extensively over the years and seen first hand the increasing difficulties that traditional farmers face. I consider myself an advocate for vertical farming and will continue to promote the idea for as long as anyone will listen. As the vertical farm industry matures over the next 10 to 20 years, I anticipate that governments will become more supportive of the concept and will establish funding opportunities for university-based research on the subject, as is now the case in Japan, and to a lesser extent in South Korea. The government of Singapore is fully behind such an approach, with the longterm goal of establishing sustainable in-country food security, safety, and sovereignty. The more people who learn about the advantages of CEA, the more likely it is that CEA, in some form, will become a regular feature of every urban center. As CEA evolves into a variety of systems for the mass production of commonly consumed vegetables, fruits, and herbs, more farmland can be allowed to revert to its original ecological function, such as hardwood forest. This in turn will allow the earth to fully function, once again, as our life support system. Intact terrestrial ecosystems filter our water naturally, and forests purify the air we breathe. Without agricultural runoff, the oceans can return to a pH that allows shellfish and coral reefs to thrive. All this is possible once we reinvent farming and move our food production centers close to where most of us choose to live: the city. Dickson Despommier, Professor, Mailman School of Public Health, and Director, Vertical Farm Project, Columbia University, New York, USA; email@example.com. Top photo Valeria Sangiovanni | Dreamstime. Bottom photo Surut Wattanamaetee | Dreamstime.
Published by ASABE. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://bt.e-ditionsbyfry.com/article/The+Rise+of+Vertical+Farms/1937490/247419/article.html.