Dickson Despommier: There’s no reason in the world why we can’t get our food manufacturing and consumption habits to match with the other parts of the natural world that we ourselves evolved from.
Dickson Despommier is a microbiologist at Columbia University. He’s talking about the idea of ‘vertical farming’ in city buildings. That’s growing produce, even fish and poultry, in vertical greenhouses – skyscrapers that feed people – each designed as a self-sufficient ecosystem.
Dickson Despommier: I think vertical farming is key to supplying us with food and to reusing the wastes that are created after consuming food to supply the energy and the water that’s necessary in order to actually make these things work.
Sewage would be heated and pressurized to separate it into water and carbon, which would fuel incinerators to power lights and machinery. While no one has yet built a vertical farm, Despommier has estimated that with just a little land, these skyscraper-farms could feed a lot of people.
Dickson Despommier: For every 50,000 people living in an urban center, they would require a building one square New York City block in footprint and thirty stories high.
Despommier expects China and Holland to build the first vertical farms within two to three years. In addition to saving on transport by making produce just a few blocks away, ecosystems beyond the city limits could heal as regular farms go ‘wild.’
Dickson Despommier: In essence, what you’re doing is saying, here’s a way that we can replant the trees that were taken away to make room for the farms. If we have the trees back then we can start sucking up CO2 from the atmosphere, and at the same time we can have our food. I know it sounds rather idealistic at this point, but it seems to be solving two major problems all at the same time.
It’s estimated that the greenhouses can be made to use only 10 percent of the water and five percent of the land needed by farm fields.
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Jorge Salazar has conducted thousands of in-depth interviews with scientists in the process of creating science content for EarthSky. He also helps host the 90-second EarthSky podcasts. Jorge has a bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Texas at Austin. He knows a lot about a lot of different things. For EarthSky, he has explored subjects as diverse as nanotechnology, ecosystem-based management, climate change, global health, international environmental treaties, astrophysics and cosmology, and environmental security. His penetrating research style, poetic writing, and ability to track down and speak with Nobel prize-winning laureates, all make him a huge asset to EarthSky.