In the past few years, the Vertical Farm Project at Columbia University has become a minor cause célèbre in the worlds of urban planning and sustainable agriculture. Since this summer, it has been featured in The Huffington Post, The New York Times, Popular Science, and most recently Scientific American. The project’s founder, public health professor Dr. Dickson Despommier, has also been interviewed on the Colbert Report, which led to some polite ribbing as well as an explosion of traffic on the project’s website.
So what is it? Basically, you can think of the Vertical Farm as the ultimate in local food production: a one-block urban skyscraper, with each floor dedicated to producing a different food staple. For the bulk of the plant crops, controlled environment agriculture would be employed in order to maximize production levels per square foot. Lower floors would be used for raising domesticated animals such as chickens and cattle, and organic waste products from both animals and plants would be composted for electrical generation and soil amendment via methane digestion. This combination would – theoretically, at least – make a vertical farm energy and resource independent. The Vertical Farm planners claim that a single such unit could provide enough food for 50,000 people annually.