Saturday, September 27, 2014

Vertical Farming animation

vertical farming
Vertical Farming

It's always good to throw in some educational animations just to keep the mood balanced. Man cannot live on Disney princesses alone! Well, most men.

Anyway, vertical farming is an idea that you hear about from time to time, and this is a good animation that combines an exploration of the concept with arch-advocate Professor Dickson Despommier of Columbia University ranting in good-natured fashion about it.

What a concept: cities growing their own food! You just take some buildings, throw in some dirt, rig up some solar-powered lights, toss in some seeds, and - presto! Big, juicy tomatoes and lettuce and cabbage and turnips.

Ah, it is so easy to be a critic of wonderful concepts and shoot down anything new. But, here we go, let's have a go at the other side, because that is what we do to keep our feet on the ground.

vertical farming

This is one of those "the devil is in the details" concepts that works in our minds if we want it to work, but it might not work so well in the real world. Real farmers might have a different take on this. There are realities of farming such as the fact that growing food simply does not match up well with the pay scale of people who live in the middle of big cities such as high-powered lawyers and movie stars and, well, Professors. And that is not even to mention the practical realities of bugs (you would need bees buzzing around) and electricity and maintenance and bringing in fertilizer and running pesticides down through the drains and managing all the water you would need and all sorts of other pesky matters that would take a lot of the fun out of the idea. Farming is land-intensive, while cities are people-intensive; it's just a difficult fit. Note the one word the Professor uses the most often in the video: 'people." As in, people would be all over this project, requiring a lot of labor that would somehow have to be compensated at a rate that enables them to live next to all those fancy lawyers and movie stars and Professors.

In terms of how messy it would be, it sounds an awful lot like heating homes with coal - something people gladly ran away from as fast as possible in the early 20th century. Yes, any practical limitation could be overcome with thought, and this would not require any new technology - but is it worth it economically? That is where this fine little video comes up short, with no mention of that.

And there also is the little matter of how much demand there would be in cities for basic crops such as turnips and cabbages. There might be a lot - I love having the Union Square Greenmarket a block away from my own pad. I go there several times a year, in fact. But you can only eat so many apples and carrots and peppers before you want some steak.

Don't get me wrong: I like the concept. Concepts are good. Trying to improve the world: good. Food is good. Self-sufficiency - good. Solar power - really good. But reality and concepts can be far, far apart. Pot growers could probably give a lot of hints as to the practicality of indoor farming.

My contribution to the cause - I am actually doing something, miniscule and trivial as it may be - by posting the video. Watch it, and see what you think. Maybe you will be the one that does this and changes the world.

Those are just my own random thoughts on the matter, and every one of them has a valid counter. Draw your own conclusions as always. Professor Despommier is certainly an enthusiastic advocate, and he has his own website on this.

vertical farming
Professor Despommier

From the youtube page:
If there weren't any pesky practical limitations, what world-changing device would you invent? In the second installment of Babelgum and GOOD's new Big Ideas competition, Columbia professor Dickson Despommier imagines filling New Yorks skyscrapers with farms.

Oh, just in case the idea really intrigues you and you really are hard core on the idea, here is Professor Despommier giving an entire lecture on the subject. He is very, very serious about this, so only watch this if you are, too. I watched it: it once again is long on airy concepts and wishful thinking and a bit removed from reality, but still interesting.


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