07/13/2012 09:16

“No weather-related crop failures due to droughts, floods, and pests” is one of the many advantages of farming your food under cover. With the pressures of growing worldwide population and the rapid increases in the population of urban centers, Dickson D. Despommier, a biology professor at Columbia University, and his graduate students have been studying the possibilities for more “indoor farming”.  Since we are no longer dependent on hunting and gathering for our food supply and have evolved into an urban species, Despommier asks, “Don’t our harvestable plants deserve the same level of comfort and protection that we now enjoy?”

                After observing ants, bees, and termites that are totally reliant on farmed food, Despommier also points out that we are the only animals that farm far away from where we live. No other animals have ever chosen to live beside their waste rather than beside their food. So the first proposals were towers – including self-contained sustainable ecosystems – to produce plants for food. Perhaps more modern versions of the Hanging Towers of Babylon. Engineers and architects around the world are working on plans for such structures.

                Actually greenhouses have been around for quite a while. An extension of this urban agriculture movement is the refurbishing of large abandoned buildings in the inner cities.  One such urban farm is emerging inside an abandoned hog-processing plant of the former stockyards of Chicago.

                “From its beginnings as a 93,500 square foot meatpacking facility, The Plant is being repurposed into a net-zero energy vertical farm and food business operation. A complex and highly interrelated system, one-third of The Plant will hold aquaponic growing systems and the other two-thirds will incubate sustainable food businesses by offering low rent, low energy costs, and (eventually) a licensed shared kitchen...The Plant will install a renewable energy system that will eventually divert over 10,000 tons of food waste from landfills each year to meet all of its heat and power needs.           

                “Aquaponics is a closed-loop growing system that creates a symbiotic relationship between tilapia and vegetables. The tilapia produce ammonia-based waste that is sent through a biofilter where solids settle out and the rest is broken down into nitrates. Those nitrates are then fed to plants growing in hydroponic beds. By absorbing the nitrates, the plants clean the water, which is returned to the fish. The Plant will sell both the fish and the vegetables to local food markets and restaurants, and will do so at a profit.”

                Keep an open mind about how your food is produced and where it is grown. New ways may prove to be better for the environment.

                More information can be found from Internet search of ‘Vertical Farms’ and ‘Urban Food Towers”.


Della Moen, Earth Team Volunteer, NRCS/Stephenson Soil and Water Conservation District, an equal opportunity provider and employer,07/11/12 (for publication on 07/14/12 in the Journal- Standard, Freeport, Illinois)  Della can be reached at