A chat with the "godfather of vertical farming"

Dickson Despommier is widely regarded as the godfather of vertical farming. It was in his Columbia University courses that many of the fundamental concepts around vertical farming were developed over a number of years.

His 2010 book, “The Vertical Farm,” has also proven a foundational text for many. Last year, he marked the book’s 10th anniversary with a new edition that offers an afterword reflecting on much of what has transpired in the intervening decade. “In 2010, when this book was first published, there were no vertical farms,” Despommier writes in a new chapter. “As of this writing, there are so many vertical farms, I don’t know exactly how many exist.” The author certainly has much to celebrate. Vertical farms now number in the hundreds across the world. Startups and governments alike are exploring the technology amid concerns around climate change, overpopulation, and overfarming. 

“I had a good picture of me, sort of kneeling down on the road with my camera, and I took a picture of the Apple Store on 59th Street and Central Park West,” explains Despommier. “I thought 'this is the way the vertical farm is gonna look. It just has to look this way.' And it’s just the opposite. What you want to do is to keep out sunlight, because it contains wavelengths of light that actually inhibit plant furrows. Who knew that, until you started to use LED lights, and you could tune and then you could see the red and the blue, little bit of green, and you throw that together and you leave out all the other visible spectra. Now you’ve made it much more efficient and the plants grow twice as fast.”

The model that we have seen thus far is more akin to a factory than a greenhouse. Large, windowless buildings that once served as fulfillment centers now house farms, powered by LED technologies, rather than the sun. For his part, Despommier points to technologies like photovoltaics, water harvesting, and cross-laminated timber construction as keys to achieving those ends.

“We want the city to become a mutualistic symbiont,” says Despommier. “That’s a fancy term meaning it helps the countryside survive by not taking advantage of it. Today, for instance, where I am, it’s raining. Every building out there should have a rain harvesting system built into the roof system, and they should have a storage system so they should use that water for heating and cooling as well as for bathing and drinking and even part of the vertical farm.”

Read the complete article at www.techcrunch.com.

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