Vertical Farms, DC

Posted by Carolyn on May 8, 2009 at 7:42 pm

I’m just back from the USA, where, among other things, I took part in the debate mentioned below about Vertical Farming at the National Building Museum, Washington DC, with Dickson Despommier (the daddy of the genre) and Robin Osler, a New York-based architect whose Urban Farming Food Chain project brings edible growing walls to inner-city food deserts such as Los Angeles’ Skid Row.

It was a fascinating day for many reasons, not least because the central proposition has gone from a spark, less than ten years ago, in the minds of a group of medical ecology students at Colombia University, to the most talked-about urban farming project worldwide. Meanwhile, the movement’s progenitor and mentor, Dickson Despommier, has emerged from a lifelong career in parasitology to become the figurehead of perhaps the most radical vision of the future of food yet produced (a role he wears remarkably well).

As to the issues, they are profound, complex, and contentious. What does it mean to ‘farm vertically’ anyway? Is it even possible? Does restoring the countryside to its ‘ecological services and functions’, as Despommier advocates, mean abandoning traditional farming altogether? And would traditional farmers be happy working indoors? And what about the taste of the food? Soil? Sunlight? Terroir?

Certainly not a range of issues best summarised in a blog – but, luckily for me, I don’t have to, because the Museum filmed the whole thing, so you can judge for yourself:

Vertical Farms Debate Video