Event: Oculus Book Talk: Dickson Despommier, The Vertical Farm
Location: Center for Architecture, 07.11.11
Speaker: Dr. Dickson Despommier — Author, The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century (St. Martin’s Press)
Organizer: AIANY Oculus Committee

The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century

Courtesy: the Center for Architecture

In a recent fundraiser for a group of women elders of native cultures from around the world, they talked at length about how the extinction of global resources would be inevitable if we did not turn things around. The grandmother from Tibet spoke specifically about the daily challenges she and her village faced to find clean water and healthy soil to grow their food. I wondered what she thought as she described the plight of her people to an audience drinking bottled water, dozens of which were amply placed around the room. Sitting in this beautiful space on Greenwich Avenue in Manhattan, it was easy to forget that these were not isolated issues in far away places. After reading Dr. Dickson Despommier’s book, The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 2lst Century I believed that while vertical farming could not solve everything it was a very viable and exciting place to start.

The basic concept of vertical farming as described by Despommier, an esteemed Columbia University professor in microbiology and public health in environmental sciences, is the creation of a closed loop, where food is produced in a sealed vertical farm, grey water is purified for drinking water, there is no agricultural runoff, in addition to more control of food safety and security. Vertical farms are not rooftop gardens. They are buildings filled with plants, fruits and vegetables that provide local food sources 365 days a year.

Despommier further states that vertical farms could enable every country in the world, regardless of climate or quality of agricultural land, to be able to grow food in an efficient and sustainable manner. While still largely theoretical, architects such as Weber Thompson Architects in Seattle, have designed a prototypical vertical farm complete with hydroponic grow areas, grey water remediation, research facilities, living spaces, retail, and a learning center for children.

“In the end, if and when our time on this planet has run it’s course, the human species will be judged not by the number of billionaires it has produced, or even by the exquisite art it has produced over the entire span of it’s evolutionary history,” Despommier states. “Rather, it will be evaluated on how well it looked after it’s own kind and the rest of the life forms on which it was wholly dependent.”

Vertical farming may have it’s cynics but unless we take serious steps to implement some fundamental changes in how we produce our food source, we will look back on this idea and wonder why we didn’t take steps when there was still time to make a difference. Majora Carter, in the book’s Foreword, makes an impassioned plea: “it’s time to built monuments to hope and prosperity. Vertical farming represents an elegant opportunity for us to rise to that challenge.” We are way overdue to heed and act upon these words.

Note about Oculus Book Talks: Each month, the AIANY Oculus Committee hosts a Book Talk at the Center for Architecture. Each talk highlights a recent publication on architecture, design, or the built environment — presented by the author. The Book Talks are a forum for dialogue and discussion, and copies of the publications are available for purchase and signing. The next talk will take place on 08.25.11, featuring Game Urbanism, by Hans Venuizen. Click here to RSVP.