The CSAs that serve my Brooklyn neighborhood are long sold out — I’m on a waiting list for next summer, and even then, who knows if I’ll make it in? Point being, there’s a mad rush to embrace local food in this city, as in many others, a demand currently outweighing supply.

One way to solve that conundrum: the vertical farm. Columbia University professor Dickson Despommier (that last name is so close to meaning “of the apple”) has been working on these skyscraper agricultural outposts with grad students since 1999, but recently he’s gotten a nod of approval from a high ranking official (albeit one with very little actual power): Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

Although we’ve lost as many as 165 community gardens in the city, Stringer envisions bringing them back, although all crammed into a tower — and more for food than for recreation. But that’s the point — it’s a farm, not a garden. It provides food, cleans the air, lets those CSA farmers breathe a little easier in the summer, and brings urban agriculture to the next level — literally.

And while architects and eco-designers across our great green Earth have been fascinated with the concept and creating lovely renderings of what could be, we don’t actually have any vertical farms yet. Despommier says we’d need somewhere between $20 and $30 million to build a pilot project, and “hundreds of millions,” according to a New York Times article, to make the ultimate vertical farm: 30 stories to feed 50,000 people.

It’s quite a handsome sum for a perpetually cash-strapped city, but Stringer wants to give it a shot: he’s hoping the mayor’s office will agree to a feasibility study. Meanwhile, I hope my local CSAs have a spot for me next year.

Story by Lisa Selin Davis. This article originally appeared in Plenty in July 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

Urban locavores might get food from vertical farms
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