Monday, October 26, 2009

Scientific American - Vertical Farms

The recent (November 2009) issue of Scientific American has many interesting articles,but the most interesting of them to me was one titled "The Rise Of Vertical Farms". This was not the first time I'd heard of this concept; in fact, I mentioned it in this blog entry from last October, when I saw the concept at the Museum of Science and Industry.

The article lays out some basic ideas, including the author's estimate that "a one-square-block farm 30 stories high could yield as much food as 2,400 outdoor acres, with less subequent spoilage." The article also suggests that this sort of farming could reduce fossil-fuel emissions and could begin to treat wastewater as a resource to provide the necessary water rather than a by-product that necessitates disposal.

Most cities have areas that such a project could be built. The use of such facilities would allow farmland to return to "its natural grassy or wooded state", and that this would be "the easiest and most direct way to slow climate change." (I'm sure the farmers will be thrilled to allow all their land to be unused except for returning to woods and prairies, but that's a separate and different issue.)

Up-front investment would be costly, but so it is in most new applications of technology. Is it the sort of thing that should be looked into? Invested in with tax dollars? Why not, if it helps our environment, and us, in the short term? The other issue is whether there is a will to do something like this. A lot of the research has been done, much of it by NASA. IIT in Chicago is apparently working up the details of a plan for the city of Chicago at this time, and other cities are interested also.

The author describes three main ways to grow the food: drip irrigation, hydroponics, and aeroponics. Hmm. Where have I seen these in action, sort of? Oh, yeah! The Land pavilion at Epcot! Even some of the pictures in the article look vaguely familiar, since I've seen those plants hanging in mid-air getting a mist blown on their roots, or being grown in tanks of water.

Could this be a very interesting theme for The Land pavilion, which could really use some upgrading? With Soarin', a renovated Livin' With The Land, and perhaps more up-to-date exhibitions of current, cutting edge land use concepts, I think people would be plenty entertained and educated in that pavilion.

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