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mattbrowne's avatar

Cultivating plant or animal life within skyscrapers - What is your opinion of vertical farming?

Asked by mattbrowne (31648points) February 18th, 2011

“Vertical farming is a concept that argues that it is economically and environmentally viable to cultivate plant or animal life within skyscrapers.

Many of vertical farming’s benefits are obtained from scaling up hydroponic or aeroponic growing methods. It is estimated that by the year 2050, close to 80% of the world’s population will live in urban areas and the total population of the world will increase by 3 billion people. A very large amount of land may be required depending on the change in yield per hectare. Scientists are concerned that this large amount of required farmland will not be available and that severe damage to the earth will be caused by the added farmland. Vertical farms, if designed properly, may eliminate the need to create additional farmland and help create a cleaner environment.”

How powerful is this concept in your opinion? Can it help save our rain forests?

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16 Answers

Bellatrix's avatar

Well I don’t know about saving rainforests but they can certainly help in terms of sustainable use of resources. I have seen a number of houses that use vertical gardens to filter grey water for instance so that it can then be reused elsewhere. Also, you could use the garden to grow food plants and reduce your carbon footprint. I think they are a great idea and if I had a house in an urban setting, and the money to have a really environmentally friendly house built, I would love to incorporate one.

coffeenut's avatar

Lol…that was on the news last night… it seems like a good idea….but looks can be deceiving… and could create/have big problems….

I can see a use for Plants…
Not so much for animals…

LuckyGuy's avatar

I can understand all the positives: water, air, etc. Those are covered nicely in the article.

As an engineer anything is possible -as long as it does not violate laws of physics. Here are some negatives I see:
1)Significant added weight that does not add to structural stability. A cubic foot of soil weights 50 kg, 100 pounds. 0ne square foot of grass weighs 10 kg, 20 pounds. A small 20 ft x 10 foot patch of greenery would weigh two tons. You must also add the weight of the superstructure as well as water and air handling equipment.
2) You are using prime window real estate that people will pay tens of thousands of dollars per foot to own to grow maybe $100 worth of “crops” -if you are lucky. Not a wise investment.
3) High rise floor space rents for $2 -$8 per sq foot per month, and $400 to $1000 per sq ft to buy. Who is willing to pay $40,000 for a 5 ft x 8 ft piece of greenery that will need constant maintenance: pruning, cutting, harvesting, pesticides, replanting, etc.? Most people would prefer to have a closet or bathroom for the money.
4) Only certain locales can actually do this successfully. One ice storm can increase the mass loading by a factor of 2. Add additional wind loading and you have increased the building design requirements (cost) significantly.

This makes sense as a show piece that is funded by a government grant – maybe.

mattbrowne's avatar

@worriedguy – The way as I understand soil isn’t required for all plants.

coffeenut's avatar

@worriedguy The one on tv last night didn’t use soil….the plants were in containers that floated in water/fertilizer mix….

JilltheTooth's avatar

I would also consider the issue of bringing light (without using power) to the inner areas of these gardens, perhaps the use of things like deck prisms or fresnel lenses or some derivative thereof for that purpose?
I don’t think vertical farming would happen to save the rainforests, but would be used as needed when things were too far gone for resource control.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@mattbrowne @coffeenut
True. Soil weighs 100 lbs,50kg / ft3, water weights 62 lbs, 30 kg / ft3 For the purpose of this discussion it is an insignificant difference. I have seen water piping with plants in the tubing. It was never explained who actually did all the work of maintaining the plants, who put them in the pipes; who harvested, etc. Grad students? Migrants?
Even if the plants were opium and there was a coke factory in the basement the developer would make more money by renting the floor space at $100 per sq ft per year than growing plants for their oxygen or CO2 credits.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@JilltheTooth I have a 20 inch diameter Fresnel lens on one of the skylights on my porch. Rather than having a rectangular bright spot on the floor, It spreads the light evenly into a 8–10 foot diameter circle. There is one small problem. The focal point is about a foot below the skylight. If you put a stick up there it will smoke and catch fire in seconds. I showed my kids this trick – much to the chagrin of my wife. I wanted them to know that they should never, EVER climb up on the picnic table and and look out of the skylight. It’s ok at my place but in most homes that would be unacceptable.

JilltheTooth's avatar

@worriedguy : That’s why I said “some derivative thereof”. Both deck prisms and fresnel lenses have been around for a long time, I’d like to think an engineer (such as yourself, perhaps?) would be able to modify the design to minimize focal point issues while not losing most of the diffusion benefits.

I think it’s incredibly cool that you have a fresnel lens at home…

LuckyGuy's avatar

@JilltheTooth Doesn’t everyone? (It is awesome by the way.)
Divergent and convergent lenses are both available. I used what I had. (It was part of a copier. I also use the magnetic strips from copiers to hang tools and small bits in the garage.)

LuckyGuy's avatar

For best aesthetics and increased productivity the foliage, water and nutrition delivery systems are optimized for a particular plant. What happens when the inevitable happens and a new disease or insect discovers this monoculture and begins to eat and reproduce with abandon? Not a very appealing image for a tenants paying rent at $100/sqft/yr

iamthemob's avatar

I love it as a concept – but I do wonder about the criticisms regarding energy costs.

However, if we are able to correct for this, I’m pumped. ;-)

In terms of the real-estate concerns – are any of these discussions bringing in a serious discussion of building down rather than up?

incendiary_dan's avatar

It’s an okay idea, and probably a lot less stupid than industrial agriculture as it’s practiced now. But ultimately, like @iamthemob mentions, it costs too much in energy, as well as other inputs like soil/nutrients and clean water. Plus the sheer amount of initial energy and material involved in making it. Sustainable cultivation systems need to do things like building soil and maintaining/increasing the amount of groundwater, like what happens in permaculture models.

And considering that it takes massive investments to build a vertical farm, it could quite easily become another way in which agri-corporations can maintain monopolies on the food supply.

iamthemob's avatar

Is this idea being considered, also, as a whole scale solution? In terms of “city agriculture,” does this become increasingly viable if we consider a greening of architecture generally (e.g., in combination with general “skyscraper” along with mid-rise and low-rise rooftop agrigulture?

I feel like so many of these ideas are dismissed because they are put forward or discussed in a vacuum. For instance, I feel like the energy discussion is horrifically skewed as the debate is generally framed as “this can’t replace oil” instead of “can this, this, this, this, and this plus oil and this, this, this, this reduction policy end up working to place us in more of a consumption equilibrium?”....

mattbrowne's avatar

@iamthemob – I think so, yes. The trend of people heading for urban centers continues. And the greening of architecture has multiple benefits.

bolwerk's avatar

I listened to a presentation on something similar to this given by some undergrads recently. They proposed urban farming on top of NYC high rises. One of the arguments in favor was improved structural integrity for the buildings.

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