Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Could Skyscraper Farms Replace Fields?

People need food, food grows on farms and farms are already taking up 41 percent of land on planet Earth. So what happens when the world population goes up 50 percent to 9.2 billion in 2050? Will 60 percent of land be used for farming? If that happens, are we going to wipe out more rainforest to make room for agriculture? That probably wouldn’t be good.

One solution is to ditch farming in fields for farming in skyscrapers, suggests Columbia microbiologist Dickson Despommier. In
a feature at Popular Science, Despommier expects 30-story skyscraper farms will produce enough food and water for 50,000 people each year. The skyscrapers would take in raw sewage and later send out fresh produce and pure drinking water.

At present, we know of about 100 fruits and vegetables that can be grown indoors (this according to NASA, which is studying this for future missions to interplanetary destinations). One plant notably missing from the list is corn. “Genetic engineering and artificial selection will also play an important role in vertical farming because there are a lot of plants, such as traditional corn, that we don't yet know how to grow indoors,” Despommier told Popular Science.

Another problem, these farms aren’t going to be cheap. Despommier estimates costs for skyscraper farms in the billions. I bet a fair amount of that will be the cost of the building itself. While Despommier points out that there are 1,723 abandoned buildings in Manhattan, I seriously doubt anyone’s going to donate these or sell them cheap. Just last week, a record $1,600 per square foot was paid for a “small boutique office building” in Manhattan,
reported CNN. That’s the most ever paid for commercial real estate in the country. As if that weren’t enough of a surprise, consider that the same building sold in 2002 for $493 per square foot.

Then again, who says the skyscraper farms have to be urban?


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