In “Urban Farming,” Crops Grow in Skyscrapers

Scientist Dickson Despommier has designed a scheme to grow crops inside 30-story skyscrapers. This urban farm concept could help feed a rapidly growing population, leave space for forests, and supply potable water for entire cities.

A look into the near future can be alarming: Currently, 40% of the land world-wide is being used for agriculture, to feed our current population of about 6 billion people. More and more forests are being cleared every year, removing valuable trees that sequester carbon dioxide and help quell global warming. By 2050, the population is expected to jump to 9 billion--how will the land be divided up?

If it were up to Despommier, a microbiologist at Columbia University, the answer lies in urban farming. Despommier envisions 30-story skyscrapers where crops are grown on every floor, each providing enough food and water for 50,000 people.

More than 100 crops can be grown indoors by taking advantage of a technique called "hydroponics," where plants grow using mineral nutrient solutions instead of soil. The plants would travel down conveyer belts past stationary grow lights and automated nutrient-delivery systems. Genetic engineering, where researchers can control the characteristics of an organism, could play an important role in the vertical farm concept by modifying the growth requirements of different crops.

In terms of water production, the skyscraper farm could use a process called "evapotranspiration," which is basically the condensation that comes from plants' leaves. Despommier plans to irrigate the plants with sewage that has been filtered through barrier plants and zebra mussels, which are the best-known filtering organism.

Despommier is also part of New York Sun Works, an eco-friendly engineering firm in Manhattan concerned with global warming and agriculture--the top cause of pollution. By using compact vertical farms instead of clearing more land, forests could be saved and trees grown to help combat global warming.

Although Despommier predicts that the first vertical farm will likely cost billions of dollars, with funding, he thinks a prototype could be constructed in five to 10 years. One day, he envisions an entire skyline dotted with skyscraper farms

Lisa Zyga
Science Blogger

Via: Vertical Farm Project and Popular Science

Aug 18, 2007
by Anonymous (not verified)

Very Interesting

Expensive, but possibly a solution.

Aug 20, 2007
by Anonymous (not verified)

great for desert area

great for desert area where water is limited, or where the weather is extreme

Aug 21, 2007
by Saturn egr valve (not verified)


thats a good thing bought by technology.

Aug 29, 2007
by Neill (not verified)

Intresting but possibly harmfull

This is a fantastic idea and it has me quite excited but there is one point im quite concerned about and that is that to my knowledge the ammount of nutrients used in hydro growing is very high. If these high ammounts of sluphur (the most dangerous nuturient to humans) are not properly flushed out of the plants to be consumed, could be harmfull to peoples health. (Then again it is better than having people starve to death).

I would like to point out that in the cannabis college in Amsterdam you are warned about the dangers of smoking hydro weed or soil grown weed that hasnt been properly flushed (at 2 weeks of watering with just water and no nuturients) before harvest. Apparently it is due to the excess chemichals in these also very potent strains that are causing the cannabis related mental disorders. However I should note that I was only told this and have not seen any hard evidence.

Aug 29, 2007
by Ikkon (not verified)


These are myths. Hydro uses less fertilizer because its captured and reused rather than trickling down to the water table. And you can't water hydro plants for two weeks with just water, they will start to die without nutrients for that long.

Aug 29, 2007
by Kavan Wolfe (not verified)

have to start somewhere

While I agree that this is a little far fetched and may have a variety of problems, someone has to advance the idea and communicate it to other scientists if those problems are going to be identified and solved. Cudos to Dr. Despommier.

Aug 29, 2007
by Jason Fox (not verified)

Great for Las Vegas

Here in Las Vegas we have tens of high rise projects "sprouting up" (no pun intended). With our 110+ degree summertime heat the recycling of plant water would be very effective. Interesting idea with great applications.

Jan 9, 2008
by Anonymous (not verified)

its actually quite well

its actually quite well known that if you are growing weed to smoke you need to flush the plants out with clean water before any harvest. I would be concerend about eating crops that are grown in these conditions with chemicals and no natural light.