Want a fresh salad in Central Park? Sounds delicious, but takes several trucks driving in ingredients from farmland outside of New York City, sometimes outside of the country.

Vertical farming can reshape that story, bringing fresh food to an urban core. This new design has a host of benefits, besides the tasty and nutritious ones...

The possibilities that opened up put stars in his eyes. Agricultural runoff is the main cause of pollution in the oceans; vertical farms produce no runoff. Outdoor farming consumes seventy per cent of the planet’s freshwater; a vertical farm uses only a small amount of water compared with a regular farm. All over the world, croplands have been degraded or are disappearing. Vertical farming can allow former cropland to go back to nature and reverse the plundering of the earth. Despommier began to give talks and get noticed. He became the original vertical-farming proselytizer. Maybe the world’s mood was somehow moving in that direction, because ideas that he suggested other people soon created in reality.

“When my book came out, in 2010, there were no functioning vertical farms that I was aware of,” Despommier said. “By the time I published a revised edition, in 2011, vertical farms had been built in England, Holland, Japan, and Korea. Two more were in the planning stages in the U.S. I gave a talk in Korea in 2009, and they invited me back two years later. Fifty reporters were waiting for me. My hosts led me to a new building, where they had ‘Welcome Dr. Despommier’ in neon lights. I saw that, and I cried! The ideas that I had described in my ’09 talk they had used as the basis for building a prototype vertical farm, and here it was. When I’m lying in my coffin and they pull back the lid, the smile on my face will be from that day in Korea.”

Today in the U.S., vertical farms of various designs and sizes exist in Seattle, Detroit, Houston, Brooklyn, Queens, and near Chicago, among other places. AeroFarms is one of the largest. Usually the main crop is baby salad greens, whose premium price, as Ed Harwood realized, makes the enterprise attractive. The willingness of a certain kind of customer to pay a lot for salad justifies the investment, and after the greens get the business up and running its technology will be adapted for other crops, eventually feeding the world or a major fraction of it. That is the vision.

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