by Jacob Silverman
By 2050, it's estimated that 80 percent of the world's people will live in urban areas (currently, 60 percent do). The population will have increased to about 9.2 billion, much of it in the developing world [Source: New York Magazine]. Many experts contend that unless drastic measures are pursued, the world could face dramatic shortage in both food and arable land. Famine and ecological catastrophe are among the possible dire consequences.
Enter vertical farming -- farming in skyscrapers several dozen stories high. Dr. Dickson Despommier, a professor of public health and microbiology at Columbia University, developed the idea with contributions from his students. Dr. Despommier claims that vertical farms could do more than just solve future food shortages. They could also stave off global warming, raise standards of living in the developing world and change how we get our food and dispose of waste. It may sound far fetched, but vertical farming is actually a very real possibility for the future.
The key to vertical farming is space. The Vertical Farm Project, led by Dr. Despommier, claims that one indoor acre of farming is equal to 4 to 6 outdoor acres [Source: The Vertical Farm Project]. They cite a farm in Florida that was converted into an indoor hydroponic farm where strawberries grow in stacks. That farm now grows the equivalent of 30 acres of strawberries in a one-acre greenhouse.... science.howstuffworks.com
Dickson Despommier is the Emeritus Professor of Public Health and Microbiology at Columbia University, and the vertical farming concept grew out of a medical ecology course he taught in 1999. Articles about the subject have been published in The New York Times, U.S. News & World Report, Popular Science, Scientific American and Maxim. In October 2010, his first book on the subject, The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century, was published. More can be learned through his website, verticalfarm.com.