While it’s true that food production has undesired environmental and health effects, they can be addressed. Even beyond the tired line of “feeding 9 billion,” vertical farming is the framework for that solution.
My background is probably the opposite of many involved in vertical farming. I started out studying international development with a focus on agriculture. As my research progressed, vertical farming began to stand out as a way to address many of the problems of the current food paradigm from the bottom-up as opposed to shotgunning aid dollars at entire countries.
On the other hand, many of my colleagues discovered this fascinating idea and then realized all of the problems that it could solve (here are the best resources to learn more). And those problems are many.
But first, what are they, and why are we so afraid of fixing them?
As I said, my background is in the “food movement.” As a result, in addition to thinkers like Despommier and Caplow, I follow the works of authors like Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan. Those two recently joined together with Ricardo Salvador and Olivier De Schutter and wrote an op-ed titled “How a national food policy could save millions of American lives.“
In it, Bittman et al. note that “The food system and the diet it’s created have caused incalculable damage to the health of our people and our land, water and air. If a foreign power were to do such harm, we’d regard it as a threat to national security, if not an act of war, and the government would formulate a comprehensive plan and marshal resources to combat it.”
The current food system causes needless, and preventable deaths that come from companies externalizing costs of damaging environmental and human health practices. Granted, some of those deaths also come from poor consumer choices, but the end result is that “today’s children are expected to live shorter lives than their parents.”
The authors created a list of points that a national food policy would address:
- All Americans have access to healthful food;
- Farm policies are designed to support our public health and environmental objectives;
- Our food supply is free of toxic bacteria, chemicals and drugs;
- Production and marketing of our food are done transparently;
- The food industry pays a fair wage to those it employs;
- Food marketing sets children up for healthful lives by instilling in them a habit of eating real food;
- Animals are treated with compassion and attention to their well-being;
- The food system’s carbon footprint is reduced, and the amount of carbon sequestered on farmland is increased;
- The food system is sufficiently resilient to withstand the effects of climate change.
Everyone involved in this industry knows, unequivocally, that vertical farming can address every single action item on this list. It’s a solution already brewing, and that is a beautiful thing.
But, for whatever reason, people outside of the industry seem afraid to embrace it. I’d like to think that people just haven’t caught up with vertical farming’s potential, but I think that instead people are just apprehensive. People are afraid of the work it would take to shift food production in this way and people are afraid of changing the status quo.
Vertical farming is certainly a profound shift away from the conventional industrial agribusiness model (not that vertical farming could never industrialize). Yet, if the world is to address the problems Bittman and Pollan lay out, vertical farming is poised to play an integral role.
By the way…
Urban Vertical Project is developing a killer presentation template for an amazing vertical farm funding pitch and we’re going to start giving it away for free for a limited time! It’s based off a real pitch we saw that got funded and we know you’re going to love it. To hear about it before anyone else, sign up for our newsletter below (just your first name and email, and we really, really won’t send you too much stuff) and follow us on Twitter @proverticalfarm.