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Coursework Stories | Oct 13, 2011 |

Agribusiness takes progress — and profit — indoors

by Faye Kulik (GSB ’13)

Vertical farming proposes growing food inside urban buildings, including high-rises.

Today’s cities are not environmentally sustainable. Human beings do not yet know how to manage Earth’s resources — unlike an ecosystem, we live beyond our ecological means.

Farming may seem like a venue in which humans and the planet would be most in harmony, but in truth, it is one of the worst environmental offenders. Farming sucks resources out of the land, and our present agricultural footprint has grown to the size of the entire country of Brazil.

We need solutions, and we may have to look indoors for the answers.

Gabelli students in Michael Pirson’s Sustainable Business class discovered this when Dickson Despommier, a parasitologist and professor emeritus at Columbia University, came in to speak about providing a safe, abundant food and water supply for 10 billion people while simultaneously repairing the Earth’s damaged ecosystems.

Professor Despommier’s solution is known as “vertical farming.” Vertical farming — which is indoor farming — allows people to control every part of the agricultural process. Its benefits can include year-round crop production, preventing crop loss that would otherwise occur due to severe weather, creating a safe and secure supply of fresh produce within a city, and, of course, new jobs. Professor Despommier said that vertical farming allows damaged ecosystems to recover, uses 70 percent less water than traditional farming, and prevents agricultural runoff.

An example of vertical farming is creating “edible walls,” or foliage-covered walls. Colin Cathcart, a Fordham professor and an architect at Kiss + Cathcart, told the Sustainable Business students about related projects his firm has undertaken. They include a complex in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in which foliage grows on the roofs of the buildings, and the Bronx River Houses, which feature a chain-link wall covered in mosses and vines.

Vertical farms exist in South Korea, Japan, Holland and Chicago. The concept has received sponsorship from the South Korean government, which wants to help others to adopt it, and in Chicago, Mayor Daly promoted a project to convert an old meatpacking plant into a vertical farm. Professor Despommier told the class that companies are sometimes cash-rich but idea-poor, leaving it up to others — perhaps one day Fordham students — to develop the prototypes for bright new ideas.

 

Image from the International Institute for Environment and Development used with permission from Flickr’s Creative Commons.

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