"Want to see where your food might come from in the future?", Owen Fletcher asks, "Look up."
The potential environmental benefits of vertical farming are extensive, claim industry advocates, who believe it can help solve some of the world's most pressing environmental issues, such as contributing to slowing climate change and land reclamation. Abandoned farmlands could improve ecosystem functioning, for example. Advocates also claim that if food is grown closer to cities, trucking transport will not be as necessary, reducing carbon emissions. Indoor farming could also curtail the use of pesticides, and protect crops against traditional weather disruptions, possibly allowing for earlier harvests.
Urban farming pilot projects, and other experimental growth methods and techniques, are sprouting up as far off as Sweden and South Korea, and as close as Chicago and New York. Plantagon, for example, a Swedish company at the cutting edge of vertical farming, plans to create a 12-story, triangular farm in Linköping, Sweden, and other facilities in Shanghai or Singapore.
Still, as a business model, vertical farming has yet to prove itself, and some experts claim that the energy required to operate such facilities may cancel out some of their purported environmental benefits.
Dr. Dickson Despommier, a microbiology professor at Columbia University who developed the idea of vertical farming with students in 1999, and chief adviser to Plantagon, remains optimistic despite acknowledging evident obstacles. "You have to start small and you have to start at the research level before you jump into the commercial aspect of this thing, but that's the way all these ideas start," he says. "Everything we have in this world of ours started out crazy."