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Old Posted Aug 4, 2010, 3:03 PM
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The Rise of Urban Farming

August 2010

By T. A. Frail

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More people than ever are growing food in cities, which happen to be where most of the world’s people now live. In windowsills, on rooftops and in community gardens, they’re burying seeds in Havana, Kinshasa and Hanoi—and in Chicago, Milwaukee and Atlanta. Novella Carpenter’s 2009 memoir, Farm City, trumpets the value of raising chickens, pigs and bees—in Oakland.

Urban farming is a response to a variety of pressures. Large parts of the developing world are facing shortages of water and arable land, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says. Governments and other sponsors have supported urban food-growing projects in Cuba, Colombia, Botswana and Egypt. In the developed world, small-scale urban farms are seen as an antidote to industrialized agriculture’s excesses, including chemical fertilizers that pollute waterways and the high costs, both monetary and environmental, of transporting food to urban markets.

Dickson Despommier, a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University, has proposed “vertical farming”: growing food—including fish and poultry—in urban buildings as tall as 30 stories and covering a city block. In his vision, you could eliminate the need for soil by growing plants hydroponically (in a liquid) or aeroponically (in the air). You’d reduce water use and end runoff by recycling water in a closed irrigation system. Transportation costs would be next to nil.

A "living skyscraper" could rise from the shallows of Lake Michigan and serve Chicago.

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