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Growing Manhattan's Food on Manhattan Island
Alex Steffen, 17 Feb 10

I'm personally still not sold on vertical farming ("verticulture"? "upfarming"?), but this is a cool visual exploration of the issue of food production and land use...

Always worth questioning whether relocalization is actually solving a problem, or just seems like it should. I suspect a well-supported regional foodshed of small farms, fish farms and forests is a better answer than greenhouse skyscrapers.

But it doesn't look as cool.

(Hat tip, Marc Alt)

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This is a very convincing video. Unfortunately, just because something is convincing, that doesn't mean it's true. In this case, the spot is an obvious piece of misinformation; I'd be curious to know who funded it.

There are a number of problems with it. For one, it claims a single multiplier from hydroponic farming: a factor of 3. This is wildly inaccurate; you can grow 22 times as many potatoes per acre hydroponically, as you can in the ground. Wheat is closer to a one-to-one relationship, but the video also neglects to take into account the multiplier that you gain from being able to grow crops all year round. It neglects to consider the efficiencies to be gained in recycling gray water and nutrients, and the environmental advantages gained by less pesticide and fertilizer runoff.

Most damning, perhaps, is the video's assumption that we would want to replace the spectacularly wasteful diet we have now with... exactly the same diet. Raising beef will always be monumentally wasteful, and this video assumes that it's necessary to do it to feed New York. New Yorkers love their beef, of course, but the issue of getting them to switch is one of politics and lifestyle, not technology. Assuming an identical food mix from vertical farms to what we have now is just silly.

All in all, the video is a very slick and thoroughgoing misrepresentation of the potential of urban farming. Again, one has to wonder who paid for it.

Posted by: Karl Schroeder on 20 Feb 10

Errata: the multiplier for potatoes is more like a factor of 10 when compared to North American farming practices. All this according to Wikipedia, which we know is always right. :-)

Posted by: Karl Schroeder on 20 Feb 10

This is why a food plan for NYC must be clear in its goals. Identify which crops are best supplied locally, establish targets, and set up distribution systems. I suspect that the NYC region will excel in fresh seasonal produce and dairy products and meats from upstate hilly land only suitable for grazing, while letting America's breadbasket supply us with calorie-rich grains. Urban agricultural land should be reserved for educational facilities and extremely perishable fresh vegetables.

Posted by: Amanda on 26 Feb 10

Karl Schroeder: did you notice 'Why Factory' at the end? Did you also spot 'TU Delft' in the sort of lower right? I can just google 'why factory' and see that 'tu delft' is immediately added to it. I'm not at all amazed to read that this think tank is sponsored by the Dutch department of Education. Goodness me, I just googled that!

Alex Steffen: 'well supported regional foodshed'.. no. In my opinion that would be similar to placing all finance in NY or, more specifically, Manhattan. No doubt you want it to be efficient, but efficiency can turn into enforced mono-culture. You can make it more resilient, less vulnerable, but then it won't be as efficient. Your choice.

Posted by: Jamisia on 24 Mar 10

Check out this real vertical farming system working today...

Reuters Video features Valcent's VertiCrop vertical farming system:

Time Magazine says Valcent's Vertical Farming Technology one of the Top 50 Best Innovations of 2009:

"I can't think of any technology that addresses more urgent issues than Valcent's vertical farming system", says RFK Jr

Posted by: Charlie Goodman on 29 Mar 10

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