Gardening in the city and the sky

>> Sunday, April 20, 2008

Green roofs are nothing new, but they are beginning to make a come back. With a greater realization of the need for sustainable living, the novelty of vertical farming is quickly becoming a necessity.

Many of us may have visions of goats grazing on a green roof such as on this roof in Wisconsin, but green roofing is coming into its own as a more environmentally friendly alternative to asphalt and tile shingles.

While at first it may seem counterintuitive to place farms in the city it is but a small leap from green roofing to garden roofing. New York magazine asked four architects to dream up proposals for a vacant lot at Canal and Varick Streets near the Holland Tunnel entrance requiring only that the design include a residential component and meet zoning requirements. One of the architectural firms, Work Architecture Company, known for their Public Farm 1 project, which you really should check out for their unique design ideas in city farming, came up with this interesting concept. The design creates an urban farming center that would lessen the amount of time food crops languish between harvest and market thereby providing shoppers with fresher food as well as decreasing the amount of fuel used and pollution generated to bring food to our tables. Four large water tanks would collect rainwater for irrigation and a farmers market could be established at ground level.

This second design comes from Mithun Architects of Seattle Washington. The concept won "Best of Show" in the Cascadia Region Green Building Council's Living Building Challenge and is being hailed as a "Center for Urban Agriculture." The building, located on a .72-acre site, includes fields for growing vegetables and grains, greenhouses, rooftop gardens and even a chicken farm." According to CEO Washington, the building also would run completely independent of city water, providing its own drinking water partly by collecting rain via the structure's 31,000-square-foot rooftop rainwater collection area. The water would be treated and recycled on site. Photovoltaic cells would produce nearly 100 percent of the building's electricity for the sites 318 small studio, one- and two-bedroom affordable apartments. No doubt the rural feel, along with related smells, would emote a sense of living in the country.

This third example is Toronto based architect Gordon Graff’s Sky Farm. A concept proposed for downtown Toronto's theatre district, it is 58 floors tall, provides 2.7 million square feet of floor area and 8 million square feet of growing area. It can produce as much as a thousand acre farm, feeding 35 thousand people per year. A service core at the back of the tower would include irrigation and electrical systems, and an isolated lower area could house chickens bred for both eggs and meat.

It is predicted that 80% of the earth’s population will reside in urban centers by the year 2050. An estimated 109 hectares of new land (about 20% more land than is represented by the country of Brazil) will be needed to grow enough food to feed us using traditional farming practices. Currently, over 80% of the land that is suitable for raising crops is in use (sources: FAO and NASA). Historically, some 15% of that has been laid waste by poor management practices.

Where is this new land going to come from? Vertical farming is the obvious answer. Creating farm land in towers near and within our living spaces to provide fresher food with less pollution is a concept whose time has come. Vertical farming offers efficient use of space, promises urban renewal, creates year-round sustainable production of a safe and varied food supply, and allows the eventual repair of ecosystems that have been sacrificed for horizontal farming.

These examples illustrate intensive farming on a grand scale that could potentially feed more people in less space. Other advantages of vertical farming are:

cuts down on weather-related crop failures

eliminates diseases spread by livestock

reduces pollution to water sources from runoff by recycling

returns farmland to nature, restoring ecosystem functions

dramatically reduces fossil fuel use (no tractors, plows, shipping)

creates sustainable environments for urban centers

adds energy back to the grid through composting

provides fresher food crops to groceries and restaurants

Here’s a teaser on future farming concepts. Robots tend crops that grow on floating platforms around a sea city of the future. Water from the ocean would evaporate, rise to the base of the platforms (leaving the salt behind), and feed the crops.

Find more intriguing future farm concept in the links below.

For more futuristic farming see:

Sea City 2000 (1979)

Robot Farms (1982)

Farm of the Future (1984)

Futurama Farming in New York

From Green Roofing to Vertical Farming

I also write a blog covering environmental issues called Are We Green Yet. Check it out for more information on green roofing, sustainability issues, advances in alternative energy, conservation techniques, and what people are doing at the local level to become less of a burden on our over-crowded planet and our rapidly depleting natural resources.


Frances, April 24, 2008 at 9:12 AM  

Some great ideas here Greg, hope someday maybe any of the presentations can come to fruition.
Frances at Faire Garden

Jim/ArtofGardening April 24, 2008 at 7:40 PM  

Love the green buildings, but I'm a sucker for futuristic architecture. used to love Popular Mechanics' illustrations from teh 60s of what teh year 2008 might look like.

"Many of us may have visions of goats grazing on a green roof.?" Really you had those visions? I didn't until I saw your post. Now I can't get it out of my head.

lisa April 25, 2008 at 2:50 PM  

Fascinating post! I love some of these ideas, and I have a suggestion for finding "new land": do away with cemetaries! Not a popular notion I'm sure, but ever since I was a kid I wondered why we waste land for the dead when the living need it more. (Yes I DO plan to be cremated...and sprinkled in my garden! :)

Greg W April 26, 2008 at 8:21 AM  

Frances, I think vertical farming is going to catch on out of sheer necessity. But there is still a lot to understand about how to make all the necessary systems work together.

Lisa, I like the idea of being 'sprinkled' where you are able to express your most creative moments.

I wrote an article on Eco Burials at Are We Green Yet that you might be interested in:

Jim, I also enjoy seeing what creative minds can come up with for our future. About the goats, I remember a drawing from a childhood fairy tale that depicted goats on a grass roofed hut and I guess a lot of people must have seen it, so that's where my memory comes from. Sorry about haunting you with it now though. :)

By the way, I am adding your site to my blogroll, fascinating stuff and beautiful photography. I especially enjoyed Tree Stairs. Thanks to all for sharing.

Greg W April 26, 2008 at 9:04 AM  

Jim, I apologize for missing this important note previously, congratulations on being published.

In the current issue of People Places Plants, the Magazine for Northeast Gardeners (Spring 2008), Jim has published his first magazine article.

An excerpt from the article, titled “Communicating Horticulturally,” is can be found here:

Nice job.

Jim/ArtofGardening April 28, 2008 at 11:03 AM  

Thanks for the plug!

I've returned the bloglist favor. On my site I have the blog roll listed in reverse alphabetical order, so you'll be higher up than in most! I've always felt bad for teh X,Y and Zs of the world.

Greg W April 29, 2008 at 10:03 AM  

Jim, there was a few school teachers that did this same thing, reversing the alphabetical seating chart, which put me squarely in the first row.

I always felt a tad bit nervous being brought out of my comfortable anonymity on the back row. But I think I learned more. Maybe because I was forced to stay awake. Hmmm. Thanks.

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