who we are what we do services products media news contact home


History of vertical farming
Vertical farming is not a new idea. Indigenous people in South America have long used vertically layered food growing techniques, and the rice terraces of East Asia follow a similar principle. The term "vertical farming" was coined in 1915 by American geologist Gilbert Ellis Bailey. Architects and scientists have repeatedly looked into the idea since then, especially toward the end of the 20th century.

The concept of integrating agriculture into a built environment was invented in a Danish farmhouse back in the 1950s that attempted to grow cress ― a peppery, tangy flavored herb botanically related to mustard ― in a factory on a mass scale. Today a more evolved type of urban farming where produce is grown in a fully controlled vertical indoor urban environment is attracting wider attention. U.S., European and Asian countries have been conducting research and development on this concept for decades.

Why vertical farming?
By 2050, the UN predicts that the global population will surpass 9 billion people. Given current agricultural productivity rates, the Vertical Farm Project estimates that an agricultural area equal in size to roughly half of South America will be needed to feed this larger population. The world faces large scale food security concerns, loss of arable land and reduced access to fresh water fueled by global warming. A rapidly growing global population and increasingly limited resources are making the technique more attractive than ever.

The Green Revolution of the late 1950s boosted agricultural productivity to an astounding rate, allowing for the explosive population growth still seen today. Since 1950, the Earth's population has nearly tripled, from 2.4 billion to 7 billion, and global demand for food has grown accordingly. Vertical farming has the potential to solve this problem.

Until now, the traditional agricultural industry could keep up. Today, scientists warn that agricultural productivity has its limits. What's more, much of the land and the soil on which the world's food is grown has become exhausted and is no longer usable.

Grow up, not out.
The concept of the vertical farm arose in Dr. Dickson Despommier’s classroom in 1999 as a theoretical construct on how to deal with a wide variety of environmental issues, specifically how to change the way we grow food. From Dr. Despommier and his students’ initial idea of "rooftop farming," the cultivation of plants on flat roofs, the class developed a high-rise concept. The students calculated that rooftop-based rice growing would be able to feed, at most, 2 percent of Manhattan's population. "If it can't be done using rooftops, why don't we just grow the crops inside the buildings?" Despommier asked himself. "We already know how to cultivate and water plants indoors."

With its many empty high-rise buildings, Manhattan was the perfect location to develop the idea. Despommier's students calculated that a single 30-story vertical farm could feed over 50,000 people. Theoretically, they calculated 160 similar structures could provide all of New York with food year-round, without being at the mercy of seasonal swings.

The Future of Food Production
In order to support an exploding global population estimated at 9 billion by 2050 plus utilize dwindling natural resources more efficiently and offset the negative affects of global climate change, the concept of high efficiency food production required parting ways with modern yet unsustainable practices currently employed in traditional agribusiness.

Worldwide interest in vertical farming is growing and as of 2010, several vertical farms have been designed and developed. The first prototype examples are located in the Netherlands, Japan, South Korea, and England. In the US, a five-story vertical farm is planned for Milwaukee, Wisconsin by Will Allen’s Growing Power organization and others are underway in Jackson, WY, Chicago, IL and Encinitas, CA.

back to top