Interview with Dickson Despommier, vertical farming advocate

Annelle of Big Think says:

We recently interviewed Columbia professor of environmental health sciences and microbiology Dickson Despommier, the pioneering researcher responsible for bringing national attention to the idea of vertical farming. In light of your recent article on Professor Despommier's critical work on BoingBoing on July 15, ("Lettuce in the sky, with diamonds") I thought that you might be interested in his interview.

Hear him describe the logistics of vertical farming.

Hear his prophesy for the "Third Green Revolution"

Select other subjects from his full interview.

As well as appearing on BoingBoing, Professor Despommier was recently featured in the New York Times, CNN, and The Colbert Report to name a few.

Logistics of vertical farming (Big Think)


  1. I want to see one get started in New York. In fact I’m working on doing just that:

    We’re pledging money to get the city of New York to approve this project and begin planning with whatever developer takes up the offer. Everyone should check it out! This is the future of sustainable development in this country and we need to start and make it happen.

  2. I prefer distributed farming since it seems more practical than building a giant skyscraper on prime real estate. In some cities without any sort of yard, I imagine it would be quite difficult, but not impossible on roofs and what not.

  3. Aloisius, they’ve already done the calculations that rooftop and local gardening doesn’t scale to meet population needs. Vertical farming does.

    Plus, distributed farming is way too much like sharecropping for me.

  4. I’m really happy that this is getting more attention.
    It’s a really great idea in theory. Aeroponic systems have shown great potential. LEDs could produce exactly the wavelengths needed by the crops with maximum energy efficiency.
    I’d really like to see a proper feasibility study though, something with numbers touching on yields, building material costs, and energy consumption.
    I’m curious about where the nutrients would come from, and how feasible it is to bring them to the farm instead of the other way around.
    I’m amused by the idea of indirectly solar powered food, and like that it could also be run on nuclear, hydro-electric, or other clean forms of energy; no longer being bound by the tyranny of weather or soil conditions.

  5. I studied urban farming for my masters degree and I can’t see how they can “solve” the logistics of vertical farming? The question isn’t about growing food and harvesting food the question is what are the energy trade offs in building a vertical structure instead of simply planting in a vacant lot. Take the entire process from initial idea through finished construction and calculate the energy costs. Vertical farming is a ridiculous idea. In response to the post above

    “Aloisius, they’ve already done the calculations that rooftop and local gardening doesn’t scale to meet population needs. Vertical farming does.”

    I was able to show, in my masters project, that the available vacant space (not including rooftops and stacked growing spaces) in 20 blocks of Brooklyn could feed the entire population of those 20 blocks plus the population of 30 blocks more in the same area. There’s no need to go vertical to feed people and please don’t suggest that 3rd world countries could rely on VF for food…they have more than enough land and less than enough money to bother with VF….heck…look at Cuba.

  6. Stuuse – I’d love to see the data, did you assume using solar/wind as the primary energy source?

    I could never understand why rooftop space in cities was never used for farming – soil roofs are nicely insulating and local food saves a lot of money on transportation. I imagine water/power/structural integrity are the primary reasons.

    Given space in a dense city to build a large vertical farm powered by wind/solar, I don’t see why this -wouldn’t- work – and given the municipal red tape with zoning, landscaping, giving the homeless a hard time, etc, I can see why it might be more (politically) doable than vacant lot or rooftop farming.

  7. #5 Stuuse, I can respect the amount of time and energy that went into a Master’s thesis, how I would ask if there is the same amount of vacant land in down-town NY (or indeed other suburbs) as there is in Brooklyn. There is also the question of buildings blocking the majority of sunlight to a ground-level plot, you would need to reflect or pipe light in anyway.

    Surely using all available spare land would increase land cost and limit development? Using a vertical space would help prevent that.

  8. Highrise farming will most likely be applied to livestock farming first. Which doesn’t look quite as green as this concept sounds. In the Netherlands, a densely populated country that already produces more food than it consumes, plans to build pig-towers have been stopped only by concerned future neighbours. Many other plans are under evaluation.

    While these neighbours were probably mostly concerned about the value of their houses, they did have some legitimate concerns. For example, one pig-tower could house up to 30,000 pigs. Imagine how much food needs to be transported for say, four of these towers.

    Interestingly, nobody is really concerned about animal rights. Everyone seems to acknowledge that pig-towers will not be any worse than the current industrial pig farms. Pig-towers even have a potential to improve the current situation, albeit only marginally.

    Despite all the problems these things might bring, I believe pig-towers and other variants of vertical farming are the future. With proper organisation and planning most technical problems can be overcome step by step.

    Yes, the animals will suffer to a degree. But it is impossible to change that, given world’s growing lust for meat.

  9. If it ever gets to the point where this is necessary and cost effective, we’re beyond screwed.

Comments are closed.