Indoor ‘vertical farming’ could be an answer to urban food needs and shrinking agricultural space—if cost and energy obstacles can be overcome.
In 1999, Dickson Despommier, a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University’s School of Public Health, faced a disappointed group of students. Thinking rooftop gardens might meet the food needs of the world’s rapidly growing urban populations, they had looked into what proportion of Manhattan residents could be fed that way. Answer: 2 percent. “They said, ‘We’re doomed,’ ” Despommier recounts in a documentary by the Dutch broadcaster VPRO. “I said, ‘What if you took your good idea and made it a better idea by moving a rooftop garden in the building itself?’ ”