My name is Robert Houghton I have been listening to your podcast with great interest and felt I had to write in and tell you not only because I enjoyed it but because I am the Technician for a Vertical Farm that has been built inside a college in the UK.
We are based in a brand new college that has had a Vertical Farm built inside of it. We have only been operating the farm for a few months were most of our crops go down into our production kitchen where the students of the college make soups, broths and other foods with the produce.
the farm is in a 66 square meter room that goes up two floors. We have two hydroponic vertical conveyor systems that go rotate so that plants can share the sunlight and then towards the back of the room we have 2 aquaponic units that are currently stocked with gold fish but will soon be stocked with Tilapia allowing us to produce not just healthy green crops but fish as well. We are fully climate controlled and are able to crop all year round without having to worry about the weather or the seasons.
I would be very interested to hear your opinions of our operation as far as we are aware we are the only vertical farm operating in school or college any ware in the world and as you know there aren’t many vertical farms that have made it past the concept stage and are fully functioning. If you have any questions regarding our farm please Don’t hesitate to contact me.
I have attached some photos to show you what it looks like there are also many more on our blog: http://wiganutcverticalfarm.blogspot.co.uk/
My name is Jody McDaniel and I have been enjoying your podcasts. I am a commercial landscaper in Austin Texas with a degree in Agronomy from Texas A&M.
I have made it through episode five so if a question/comment is covered in episode six you may feel free to disregard.
A couple of things:
- I was glad to hear you mention Epcot’s The Land, it’s one of my favorite places in Disney World and taking the “Behind the Seeds” tour years ago was enlightening to someone whose training has always been soil based. I’ll be headed back in December with the family and I plan to look at it again with a fresh perspective.
- One of the professors at the Soil and Crop Science Department at Texas A&M was Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug, considered by many to be the father of the Green Revolution. I would love to hear your thoughts on his contributions and the continuing work that the Borlaug Institute is doing and how the tenets of vertical farming could be used outside of the urban space. I think that vertical farming, proved in the urban areas, can be moved to areas that are not urban but are unsuitable for field agriculture. Imagine large vertical farms in sub-Saharan Africa, feeding and employing tens of thousands.
- I have served on several water task forces here in the Central Texas region and I would like for you to do a show on the water impact of vertical farming. In Texas 63% of the water used in the state is for agriculture, what is a reasonable reduction that could be realized with vertical farming? 87% of the state is in some form of drought as of July 1st so increasing production and reducing water usage is an important goal.
- As vertical farming increases, with the concomitant advancement of the science that similar increases have engendered in other fields, do think that that variety of crops that can be integrated into the vertical/urban farm can be increased? If you had to guess, what would the next generation of crops be? You discussed dwarf corn and wheat, can the dwarfed plants be harvested efficiently enough in a closed interior system to make it worthwhile ($) to grow them?
Again, I have enjoyed the podcasts so far. I’ll give #6 a listen this week and will look forward the series continuation.
Have a great week.
Dear Mrs. Dickson Despommier and Vincent Racaniello,
I’m a listener of your show from Peru. So far it’s been informative and inspiring.
I imagine that you’re aware of this news, but just in case I think you should check this article:
I’m thinking of starting a roof-garden with hydroponics or aeroponics.
Any ideas about which one is easier?
I was just listening to episode 6, and it got me thinking that maybe while in Australia, you could get an interview with Dr. Wilson Lennard. I’ve been interested in aquaponics for many years, and Dr. Lennard seems to be doing some very good, scientific work on the ratios of fish to plants to keep the systems balanced properly. Maybe he would be a good guest (?)
British Columbia, Canada
Climate scientists, Dying Trees, Systems ERoEI
If you do interview a climate scientist, have them go over the Climate Change Summary and Update:
Most of them are one-trick-dogs and do not incorporate the whole picture.
The global dying-off of trees is addressed briefly in
Whispers from the Ghosting Trees
Posted by Greg Laden on January 29, 2013
Wit’s End is a blogger from New Jersey, who has investigated the matter of dying trees in much detail:
Dead Trees, Dying Forests:
The plethora of photographs on her website (a lot from New Jersey) will help persons who do not see the ongoing calamity due to shifting baselines and the normalcy bias.
The ERoEI (Energy Returned on Energy Invested) is a very basic metric for production.
In Eating Fossil Fuels
Dale Allen Pfeiffer describes how a calorie of food takes seven to ten calories of fossil fuel energy to produce in the industrial system.
What are the figures for the various forms of urban agriculture? It is to be remembered that the emergy (embedded energy) of the infrastructure (buildings, plumbing, etc. – the energy it took to make that infrastructure) amortised over its useful life should be included. Whether or not they are competitive vis-a-vis the fossil fuel industrial agriculture system will be revealed by the ERoEI much better than by any financial statement. And once ERoEI is determined, the relative fossil fuel consumption will be easy to estimate.
(Another article on Arctic News offers a more definitive yardstick:
“As a consequence, the enhanced global warming will melt the global ice sheets at a fast increasing rate causing the sea level to begin rising at 15.182 cm/yr in the first few years after 2015 giving an accurate way of gauging the worldwide continental ice loss”
Concerns that the methane monster may soon be aprowl:
First I have to thank you so much for developing this podcast. I’ve been listening to them over and over to try and extrapolate all the great information that is within them.
My name is Dustin I’m a recent graduate from UC Davis with a major in Environmental Policy Analysis and I’m acutely aware of the issues that we’ll face in the light of what climate science has found. I am also concerned about population increase and how that will impact land-use, democracy, and our increasing resource use. I believe this multifaceted solution has the great possibility of not only feeding a great deal of people throughout the world right in their communities while simultaneously addressing environmental degradation but also it maybe pivotal in developing local economies and improving economic inequalities.
Anyway I am extremely excited about this idea and Id love to get involved and perhaps create my own business. I’m searching for a graduate level program in Australia or Sweden that could teach me all the aspects of indoor agriculture and I was hoping that you might have some suggestions. The reason I’m looking for a program in Australia or Sweden is because I’m interested in becoming a citizen of one of these countries. the only caveat may be my GPA, which at UC Davis was around 2.7 so that may limit me but at the very least I wanted to get your opinion for the next step you think I should take.
Again thank you so much and I hope you both keep making these podcasts at least for my sake. If you do enough maybe I won’t have to pay for a masters degree. 🙂
Cheers to you and to the possibilities of the future!
First off, thanks much for your podcast. I have thoroughly enjoyed the exploration of farming that you both provide. Not only is your podcast insightful and thought-provoking, but your on-air personalities are fun to listen to.
I writing you for selfish reasons, but hopefully adding a layer of consideration for your listeners. I am a teacher who is interested in dedicating my practice and potentially a career to sustainable agriculture. My head reels when I consider all of what can and should be done.
What is the future for careers in urban agriculture and besides passion, what background is needed to be a successful instrument for change?
Also, Dr. Despommier, thank you very much for your book. I’m enjoying every page!
Thanks, fellas, keep spreading the word!
Greetings Urban Agrophiles!
I’m loving this new podcast, both for reinforcing things I learned long ago and for learning a lot of new things. I’ve been interested in urban agriculture for most of my adult life (which admittedly isn’t that long), and it’s great to hear it getting such a lavish treatment.
In light of the outro tagline (“see you upstairs at the farm”), I thought I should point out that there’s no reason a vertical farm has to be vertical “up.” See for example this underground farm in an old bomb shelter in London. In fact, growing underground might make more sense in terms of containment, transport (easier to get heavy things like water down) and most especially because underground settings are not going to compete with living space for people.
Of course, the cost of digging out a *new* underground space might be cost prohibitive, but imagine every new skyscraper built with a few stories underground dedicated to growing things for the building, rather than carving out floors that could be used for human habitation.
I would like to tell you about our Phytopod Vertical Gardening containers. You can see us on facebook and follow us on twitter under the name phytopod
Vincent and Dickson,
Firstly, thank you for standing on the shoulders of giants and committing your knowledge and time to this wonderful podcast. It is much needed and 2014 is the perfect time to spread the word of indoor food production.
I’ve been a listener since day 1 of the podcast and have just finished listening to episode 7 – “The Science of Indoor Farming”. I feel completely obligated to let you both know; You’ve really hit your stride now. Best episode to date. The banter was fun and informative; while keeping the podcast moving at an exciting pace.
I especially agree with Dickson’s statement about “farming is not natural”. Finally!! Someone who truly gets it.
With regards to the discussion on the profitability of commercial farming, I can attest with 100% it will be profitable in the future and this is based on the fact that, unlike growing food outdoors, indoor farming relies on solely on technology in order to grow plants. Because technology is an exponentially developing phenomenon, there will be – at some point in the future of humankind – a point at which enough energy can be harvested to power everything (for orders of magnitude less than what we pay now). In my opinion, now is not the time to worry about profitability of indoor farms, now is the time to build them and learn.
I’ve been holding off from e-mailing since the very first episode (I tweeted to Dickson as soon as I heard the first episode… I don’t know if he uses that account or if its a fake or what..) but it’s finally gotten to the point where I can’t hold it in anymore! SO, here goes:
My name is Brian. I’m a Mechanical Engineer, Thinker, Dreamer and Entrepreneur; and I’ve co-founded a start-up company called Future Tech Farm (futuretechfarm.com). Future Tech Farm is a distributed food production platform that allows people to grow all of their fresh produce needs, right in their own living space. This venture has been massively inspired by The Vertical Farm book (which I read over 2 years ago) and for that, I thank you Dickson.
Before I go too far down the rabbit hole on how the platform may potentially work, I’d like to propose a hypothesis for both of you to chew on and let me know what you think. Going back to the first 4 episodes when you were talking about the 1st and 2nd green revolutions, and how we’re transitioning into the 3rd green revolution; I’d like to propose the 3rd green revolution be broke down even further into what I’ve been calling the “2 impending paradigm shifts”. Both of which will transpose food production to the indoor environment.
The first paradigm shift is the one in which I believe food will be grown indoors, at commercial scale. This is a massive shift alone in farming in which the process of growing and distributing food increases in decentralization by orders of magnitude. I live in Grand Rapids, MI and if either of you have been to Grand Rapids, Michigan in the middle of winter, you’re well aware our strawberries at the local Meijer grocery store don’t come from anywhere near, Grand Rapids. And boy, do they taste like it too, traveling over 2000 miles before they hit the shelves. What if that distance were 200 miles, 20 miles, 2 miles, or less? That’s what indoor farms at commercial scale, can do. Generally speaking, we’re not growing food for nutrition or flavor anymore; we’re growing food so it can travel. Indoor farming has the potential to bring back the taste, and bring back the healthy.
The second paradigm shift I believe will be that of the further decentralization from commercial indoor farms to food grown at the very source of consumption. Zero food miles. This paradigm shift will culminate in the global food supply being produced autonomously, without human labor.
A very high level description of how the platform would work:
The description I’ve discovered best used to describe how this phenomenon would operate; is a decentralized and distributed, food production platform in the form of a DAC (Decentralized Autonomous Company). It may or may not be based directly on a blockchain but it will definitely utilize a blockchain technology for accounting, and incentivizing the network participation. (side note: if you happen to run into anyone you know, who understands what this means, please send them my way – we’re looking for team members to help us begin thinking and writing our white paper, along with research) We believe in the future, people will have personal home grow systems to autonomously grow a majority of their fresh food intake. Each one of these ‘nodes’ on the network will be connected to each other through a decentralized internet. Outfitted with sensors, the network would be able to monitor every variable needed to grow food in each system; and adjust in real time to constantly improve upon the efficiency – kind of like a neural network with a positive feedback loop. For example, if you and I were both to grow lettuce and you’re able to grow in 30 days flat, but I can’t seem to harvest faster than 45 days, and even so – my yields are much less than yours. My system would be able to pull data from yours to see what it’s doing differently and automatically adjust to match the same variable inputs. We envision these units being appliances of the future, in which living spaces will be purposefully built to incorporate them, just like today with fridges, stoves, washing machines, etc.
I could go on for days about this topic, but I’ll sign off with one final thought – if you guys ever need a guest host or a third co-host, I’d be more than happy to try a test podcast with you guys, and see if it would be a good fit. I’d also be willing to help out with interviewing indoor farmers (…I’ve worked at Green Spirit Farms and know the founders well) OR provide “the entrepreneurs perspective” in the emerging indoor ag tech industry. In any case, I’m happy to help the cause however I can and will continue to spread the word on the Urban Ag podcast – we’ve posted links after every release on our Future Tech Farm Facebook Page since the beginning! 😉
Seriously, keep up the amazing work and thank you both for your efforts in re-associating the public consciousness of what farming should be.
I really think you guys could benefit from accepting tips, either in bitcoin or BitShares – I’d be happy to assist and help you get set up if you’re interested!
NICE choice with the Ronald Jenkees song Vincent!
I’m a fairly recent devotee of TWIM and TWIV and stumbled on to the Urban Ag podcast. I was so excited listening to the first couple as the ideas of vertical farming on a commercial scale were new to me and reasoning behind why we should adopt these systems was compelling. At the same time I found myself a little frustrated that some points seemed to be belabored and that there was a general tendency to wander off topic. There seemed, in short, to be a lot of filler.
Alas, it hasn’t gotten any better. I’ve continued to listen to them to glean the interesting material about various operations out there but in the last three have found myself stopping part way through with a cry of anguish as this basic science discussion sputters off in this way and that. Vincent, whose work is so amazing on TWIM and TWIV, does not make a convincing fool and sidekick. Dixon, who I have come to know as a very knowledgable on TWIV, comes off sounding almost senile at times. I am horribly sorry if this sounds harsh. They are my honest impressions and as Dixon has said, this topic is too important to get wrong.
I would like to suggest a variation on the TWIx model, which in this case would be to have a podcast episode focus on a working Urban Ag system (i.e., Plantagon) and through that bring in basic science in small doses. I also don’t know if there is a scientific literature that would address certain aspects of Urban Ag but I would also love to hear some of that discussed. That would be playing very much to your strong suit.
I am not trying to be hurtful in any way. It is simply that I think this topic is fantastic and I’d love to able to suggest that people listen to the podcast, which I don’t currently do. I would never have written this email if I didn’t know that you are capable of creating terrific and engaging podcasts.
Thanks for your time,
I’m very excited about the podcast. There has been such a great discussion on of soilless agriculture. When I saw this, I immediately thought of the podcast and I wanted to share it. It’s an indoor aquaponic system in one of our local restaurants that is growing micro-greens.
Keep up the good work.
Dear Dickson and Vincent,
Dickson, I wonder if you remember when in 2005 we met in your office overlooking the Hudson River, to discuss UA and our book “Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes (CPULs): Designing urban agriculture for productive cities”? We have just completed the follow-up, titled “Second Nature Urban Agriculture: Designing productive cities”, and it is is about to be published (http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415540582/).
We wonder now if you would like to receive a copy from our publishers for review? If so, please confirm with a contact name and postal address.
In the context of rapid urbanisation and population growth there is an urgent need to find strategies to address the world’s fragile food security. Second Nature Urban Agriculture: Designing productive cities aims to contribute to this pressing issue by offering a radical but achievable approach that is equitable, sustainable and can create desirable urban environments.
This new book takes forward ideas about the CPULs concept, advances and updates the theory and deals with strategies for implementation. It draws lessons from selected international projects that are innovative, challenging and underway, all of which have been developed or evaluated by the authors. The book introduces a four-point plan of “CPUL City Actions” aimed at activists, designers, practitioners and policy makers interested in implementing urban agriculture as part of a wider urban design strategy.
Leading international academics and practitioners from the fields of food planning, the arts and urban design have contributed to the book, and the foreword has been written by William Mc Donough, author of the highly influential and acclaimed Cradle to Cradle (http://www.mcdonough.com/speaking-writing/cradle-to-cradle/).
The book Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes (CPULs): Designing urban agriculture for productive cities was published in 2005 and is now recognised as a seminal work making the case for the coherent introduction of urban agriculture into cities. CPULs has been positively reviewed by a wide range of readers, e.g. by Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Towns Movement (http://transitionculture.org/essential-info/book-reviews/cpuls/), or The LAND 8 Landscape architecture blog where it was rated as one of the top 4 books on urban agriculture (http://land8.com/profiles/blogs/top-4-urban-agriculture-books).
The CPULs concept has been influential internationally at a policy level as evidenced by the United Nations University Institute for Advanced Studies who in a report about the urgent need for enhancing urban biodiversity note:
“As the rule of interdependent adjacencies in urban ecology has it: the more diversity, and the more collaboration “between unlikely partners”, the better the chances for biodiversity, sustainability, and resilience (Hester, 2006). Linked to this idea is the concept of Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes (CPULs), which represent a powerful urban design instrument for achieving local sustainability while reducing cities’ ecological footprints (Viljoen, 2005).”
Andre Viljoen and Katrin Bohn
Hello Drs. Racaniello and Despommier,
I was looking online for the e-urban agriculture journal mentioned in UrbAg8, and I stumbled on this paper on indoor vegetable production automation. I wondered if you had seen it, and if so, if you had any thoughts on such automation. I worked for about 10 years in water recirculating fish farming, and one of our largest expenses was human labour. We were always looking for ways to grow as much or more while using less person-hours.
Thanks very much for doing this podcast! I’m hoping indoor farming is an idea that the time is right for so it can be done profitably and sustainably!
To whom it may concern,
Is it realistic to think that Vertical Farms could also be in small towns around the country, and in rural industrial parks too, so as to provide rural folks job opportunities in rural American too, and better local produce for rural people too?
I’m stuck in the inner city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, but dream of living out in the country.
Vertical Farms give me tremendous hope for the future, as do Liquid Metal Batteries, and high efficiency electric cars and trucks, and hybrid cars and trucks too!
Just heard Ep 8; another great show.
Is there a discussion group for this or place that lists who and where the process is being applied? I looked on Google Groups and found very little related information. Certainly you’re doing it with UrbanAg, but would a list of growing sources be useful on the site? Seems like there are a growing group of DIY-selfers who could share lessons learned.
Keep it up.
Heard a podcast by Shubhendu Sharma on planting forest to make them successful quickly. Thought Dickson might like this. It seems to go along with his idea of having more forest.
Can find the site for this at: The man who plants trees: Shubhendu Sharma is reforesting the world, one patch at a time
Could you recommend companies or universities in developing countries who are developing indoor farming or vertical farming. Would like to make loans through the micro-finance organization KIVA to support the new developments in agriculture. They have large numbers of farmers who are using old methods of farming and are willing to look at greener solutions. If I knew what organizations were doing this kind of work, I could direct my loans to them.
Thanks for your help and for the wonderful podcasts
Dear Dickson and Vincent,
After listening to all the episodes of Urban Agriculture podcast (I have been a long time listener to all the Twix podcasts, by the way), I was excited to hear that the employer I work for will be experimenting with Freight Farms to supply leafy greens to our cafeteria(s). The program manager announced that we will have a vertical farm, even though the pilot program is just a single shipping container, and I teased him that a single story implement is technically not vertical, but just an “indoor farm”.
I visited the container today and boy I was wrong.
They use narrow and long columns, inside of each has rooting matrix material, plant seedlings there, and have many of these columns installed vertically in a shipping container. The plant ends up growing sideways, and it is very fair to say that their farm is vertical.
Anyway, I am anxiously waiting for the day I can eat their harvest in our cafe. Oh, also for the next episode of Urban Agriculture as well ;-).
Thanks as always for entertaining and intellectually stimulating discussions.
Perhaps the speaker in this talk can share technology and grow food here.
Jim, Smithfield, VA
Hi Dr. D and R.
Love the show, much appreciated and very much involved on this side of the pond.
As a picky listener, I would like to propose various related fields, such as permaculture, symbioculture, and, as I call them: visitor friendly polydomes.
All market research probably shows, just as mine: how to get the public hooked on these amazing developments in agriculture.
Love to hear your view on This. Let’s take the elevator up, to the farm!
All the best,
Owner of VersaFarms, the Netherlands
Hi my name is David. I am a mentor for the Future City team from AlHadi School in Houston. Future City is a National Competition where students from Middle Schools across United States create futuristic cities. The 2015 Future City topic is Urban Farming. We ( myself, staff and the students) will really appreciate it if you could be available for a 1 hour conference call to discuss the future of urban farming. Being subject matter experts we would really appreciate your insight and guidance.
I look forward to your response.
Dear Vincent and Dickson,
I apologize for addressing you by your first names, but I feel like I know you after listening to nine of your wonderful podcasts. Your laid-back style of interviewing and learning makes it that way.
I am writing to you from Quebec, the french speaking province of Canada. As I was listening to the Green Spirit Farms masterminds, on how they were able, during the London Olympics, to set up an indoor farm to provide fresh produce for the event, I began to wonder how this can translate to the many geographical challenges we face in Canada.
I am an ER doc, and I have the privilege to work part time in many remote and isolated Canadian communities. On my trips, I often find myself standing in front of a stack of dried out and overpriced lettuce. It is, to use an expression that usually refers to poor inner city neighbourhoods, a “food desert” of its own.
It is thrilling, from a public health perspective, to imagine a world where the technology of indoor farming gets cheap enough that we can set up small scale farms providing a few fresh basic vegetables to these remote communities. Plus, local indoor farming would reduce the carbon footprint caused by having to fly or drive vegetables on huge distances like we currently have to.
Dear Dr. Despommier and Dr. Racaniello,
I’m a published science fiction / mystery novelist working on an idea for a thriller set in a vertical farm building, and I’ve been reading through your ideas for the future of agriculture and vertical farming. I have studied your website, Ted talks, and am most of the way through your nonfiction book on the subject, which I will finish soon.
First off, thank you for all of your work in this field. It gives me so much hope in the future of humanity that people like you are working to help solve some of the big problems we’re facing as a species. I find your arguments and your ideas for vertical farming to be extremely compelling, and I am so encouraged to see them being put into practice. I think this is one of the solutions we’re going to need as a species, and soon. Thank you.
That being said, I wondered if you might be willing to help me with some of the details for the novel. I’m planning to set the novel in a near-future vertical farm built in either Dallas or Houston, TX. I need it to be completely indoors, and have the climate, security system and other equipment to be computer controlled (so that my heroine and hero can be trapped inside by a computer takeover). I’d like my heroes to use the surroundings to cleverly fight off the bad guys and get out of the farm and choose to share their science breakthrough with the world. So, naturally, I need an interesting vertical farm to set the book in, and interesting technology within the farm.
It occurs to me that you guys might have access to some existing designs of farms that you (and the designers) might be willing to share. I’d be happy to credit you (and/or the designer) for the design in the book. If not, do you have any suggestions on the kind of design that would be appropriate for the climate of Dallas or Houston in specific?
Also, as I get further into the project, would you guys be willing to answer the occasional (small) list of emailed questions on the science behind all of this? While I want the book to be exciting and one step ahead of current technology, I also take my science very seriously and would like to get as much right as humanly possible to help my readers learn and think while they’re reading.
I so appreciate all of the work and thought you’ve put out there. Thank you in advance for your time.
Esteemed Polymaths Despommier and Racaniello,
As always, your presentations are fantastic! Efficiency is obviously the raison d’être of urban agriculture and particularly vertical (or simply indoor) farming. You often highlight various efficiency improvements over conventional agriculture for example, water, space or nutrient use. These can be fairly easily quantified and compared. Total energy, however, is a bit more difficult to compare, particularly that of sunlight and a key component of cost.
I’m sure that many other listeners would be interested in learning about the total energy use by indoor farming. Lighting alone is interesting but the total kilowatt-hour usage of the facility divided by the kilograms of produce shipped would be particularly revealing and provide a benchmark for future comparisons.
Thanks again for providing us with so much continuing education.
Dear Dickson and Vincent
I saw this DIY computer controlled vertical hydroponic system on the Instructables site and thought it may be worth mentioning on Urban Agriculture.
The whole module, which takes 160 plants is build from off the shelf hardware, the total cost is apparently under $500. Watering, nutrient levels and lighting are all run by Arduino controllers networked to a Raspberry Pi computer allowing all system parameters to be monitored and updated in real time.