Once in a blue moon (perhaps full moon is more accurate) I’ll have what I believe to be a novel, original idea only to discover it’s not only unoriginal, but there’s actually been a fair amount of research and development in the field! That’s why, after being inspired by some of the concepts in Eric Sanderson’s talk at the TED conference, I wasn’t surprised to find a wealth of information on the field of Vertical Agriculture within a few clicks of a quick Google search (I labeled my concept “Parking-Garage Agriculture”, but perhaps “vertical” is a more suitable adjective).
In essence, the idea of vertical farming is to stack multiple farms on top of each other (much in the way that parking garages stack multiple parking lots on top of each other) and house them under one building (think Arcologies in Sim City 2000, but exclusively for agriculture). Obviously an ecosystem is not as easy to maintain as a parking garage, but I believe through the use of greenhouse technology and advancements in optical systems that can focus and distribute natural daylight, that this idea may not be so far-fetched.
And why not? From a social acceptance perspective, we’ve already seen the introduction of green roofs to the urban architecture scene (including such backyard examples as the Vancouver Convention Centre). Vancouver is a perfect example of a city that is restricted from outward growth by both mountains and ocean – but there is plenty of room to build upward and to displace our green space (rather than eliminate it). Furthermore, by hosting multiple levels of plant-life we actually have the opportunity to increase the amount of green space in our cities.
From an engineering perspective, controlling the environment in which our crops live would allow us to better predict their behaviour and design more compact, automated farming systems. And with structural advancements that have allowed for the creation of such buildings as the Burj Dubai, it’s not hard to believe that the weight of several farms and their support systems could be supported.
The field is relatively new, but I am already a huge fan. I see potentially opportunities to improve our wasteful water consumption practices (through recycling and re-use of gray water for irrigation), become more self-sufficient and perhaps improve our air-quality while we’re at it. The ‘farmscrapers’ are coming, start building up an appetite.