Tag Archives: Agriculture

The Future of Agriculture in the city – Plantagon

Advocates of ‘vertical farming’ say growing crops in urban high-rises will eventually be both greener and cheaper


The seeds of an agricultural revolution are taking root in cities around the world—a movement that boosters say will change the way that urbanites get their produce and solve some of the world’s biggest environmental problems along the way.

It’s called vertical farming, and it’s based on one simple principle: Instead of trucking food from farms into cities, grow it as close to home as possible—in urban greenhouses that stretch upward instead of sprawling outward.


The idea is flowering in many forms. There’s the 12-story triangular building going up in Sweden, where plants will travel on tracks from the top floor to the bottom to take advantage of sunlight and make harvesting easier. Then there’s the onetime meatpacking plant in Chicago where vegetables are grown on floating rafts, nourished by waste from nearby fish tanks. And the farms dotted across the U.S. that hang their crops in the air, spraying the roots with nutrients, so they don’t have to bring in soil or water tanks for the plants.

However vertical farming is implemented, advocates say the immediate benefits will be easy to see. There won’t be as many delivery trucks guzzling fuel and belching out exhaust, and city dwellers will get easier access to fresh, healthy food.


Looking further, proponents say vertical farming could bring even bigger and more sweeping changes. Farming indoors could reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides, which pollute the environment in agricultural runoff. Preserving or reclaiming more natural ecosystems like forests could help slow climate change. And the more food we produce indoors, the less susceptible we are to environmental crises that disrupt crops and send prices skyrocketing, like the drought that devastated this year’s U.S. corn crop.

Dickson Despommier, a microbiology professor at Columbia University who developed the idea of vertical farming with students in 1999, thinks vertical farming will become more and more attractive as climate change drives up the cost of conventional farming and technological advances make greenhouse farming cheaper. In fact, he hopes the world will be able to produce half of its food in vertical farms in 50 years.

Then “a significant portion of farmland could be abandoned,” he says. “Ecosystem functions would rapidly improve, and the rate of global warming would slow down.”


An Idea on the Rise

A host of vertical farms are up and running in the U.S. and overseas, and others are under construction. Some are backed by nonprofits aiming to promote environmental causes or local job creation. Others will be for-profit ventures meant to meet demand for local produce. And some, like one in South Korea, are being funded by governments looking for ways to boost domestic food security.



Boxty House Project – Urban Farm Project: Rooftop Gardening

” Urban farm’s collection of 160 different heritage potato varieties, dating from 1768 right up to 2004.

We have grown these potatoes on the roof for http://www.boxtyhouse.ie/ as part of the boxty house gathering harvest event & to highlight awareness of the diverse varieties of potato in ireland.”



David langford visits his potato collection on the urban farm rooftop, where we are growing 160 different types of spud in collaboration with pádraic óg gallagher of gallagher’s boxty house in temple bar.

The Secret Pot-Growing Operations in America’s Cornfields

The same tech that’s helping farmers with legal crops is a boon to the agricultural underworld.

On any given weekday in the summer, you will find me walking through fields counting bugs. In fact, it’s my job: I’m an ecologist studying the communities of insects that live in agricultural landscapes.

Most days between early June and early September I drive between farms to scout crop pests and the beneficial insects that eat them, changing sticky yellow glue traps and sweeping vegetation with a canvas net.

But a single afternoon in August 2006 stands out in memory. Along one of the transects my colleague and I had set up in a cornfield, we noticed that several plants around one of our traps were missing.  Strong winds or hail can knock down whole corn plants but what made this remarkable was what stood in their place: marijuana.

Specifically, there were five plants, each standing about eight feet tall, in the middle of our survey plot and bursting with buds ready to harvest. While we were deciding how to proceed and what to tell the landowners, we received our next surprise; someone else was rustling through the field towards us.       

It’s rare to happen upon someone strolling through a cornfield—and for good reason. If you’ve never walked through one, it is not a pleasant experience. Tightly packed rows of stalks almost 10 feet tall create an almost full canopy overhead.

Underneath, row widths much narrower than your hips include sharp, jutting corn-leaf edges that inflict papercut-like nicks to any exposed skin as you brush past. And if you’re there during the tasseling and silking stages, your skin may break out in a rash from the falling pollen.

Appropriate attire for field scientists in cornfields includes boots, long pants, and sleeves, a sturdy hat, and glasses to protect your eyes from being cut by the leaves. In other words, anyone making the trek into a cornfield is going with purpose, whether to sample insects or surreptitiously grow marijuana.

When the person approaching saw us, our field gear, and our surprise, they quickly disappeared back into the dense sea of green stalks. While we never saw them (or their marijuana) again, it became clear that this was not an isolated incident.

Almost every corn grower I spoke to that summer had a tale of discovering marijuana in their cornfields at harvest time. Which led me to ask: What is it about the nation’s largest crop that has made it so attractive to marijuana growers in recent years?

The answer: Growing marijuana has become possible and desirable, not to mention nearly untraceable, thanks to the very innovations that created industrial-scale, precision agriculture in the first place.

* * *

In an arms race to grow more food for a ballooning world population while still turning a profit, commodity farmers are turning to quantification. By carefully monitoring their inputs and outputs, growers turn usage information into optimized and personalized plans for each of their fields.

They map their field perimeters using GPS technology. They plant crops in laser-fine straight lines while streaming Netflix over wifi in their air-conditioned tractors, which count the seeds planted in real time. They precisely apply pesticides with helicopters, which are safer and more effective than crop dusters, reducing the amount of chemical needed.

At the end of the growing season, they measure crop yield on a plant-by-plant basis as the combine harvests, revealing within-field patterns of variability never known before. Recently, agribusiness corporations have even proposed tracking that yield data at continental scales during harvest, which would be used to alter grain market prices into the next year.

And while the Federal Aviation Administration has not yet legalized the use of drones for commercial purposes in agriculture, researchers have already started flying them over fields to record plant health and track pests, disease outbreaks, nutrient deficiencies, and drought stress at landscape scales.

Internet forums devoted to sharing tips for growing marijuana in other people’s corn fields have sprouted.

All of this is possible without a corn farmer needing to step foot into the field, which is remarkable—and critical for several reasons. First, over half of American commodity farmers now call farming their secondary occupation, according to the most recent national agricultural census.

And who has time to walk through a field when you have another full-time job? Second, commodity corn pricing forces growers to focus solely on the bottom line.


They’re working to produce as much as possible, which lowers prices if everyone has a good year, while hoping for high selling prices, which depends on other growers having a poor year. (Harvesting 1 bushel, or roughly 70 pounds, of grain corn would get you $3.77 on the Chicago Board of Trade this winter.)

Third, more and more agricultural land is being turned over to corn. In large part this is due to the push for corn as a biofuel feedstock. Lastly, the land cultivated by individual farms is increasing.


Also according to the latest census, the average farm size is 434 acres — with over 336 million acres of land held by farms that are 5,000 acres or larger. This has led to amazing productivity in our country—America is the world’s leading producer of corn, harvesting nearly 376 million tons of it in 2012. How can a grower walk through all that land? 

The truth is that they don’t.

Once a corn field is planted and herbicide applied, many farmers don’t return to a given field until harvest time. The biotechnological and labor-saving innovations that have reduced costs for corn farmers mean that literally no one walks into the average corn field during the growing season.

Which presents a major opportunity for marijuana growers. Indeed, entire Internet forumsdevoted to sharing tips for growing marijuana in other people’s corn fields have sprouted.

In earlier years, marijuana growers who wanted to illegally grow on others’ land often sought out large swaths of remote natural areas. But law enforcement technology caught up, using helicopters outfitted to detect these large areas of marijuana within forest or other vegetation by thermal imaging.

The Forest Service has estimated that the majority of their law enforcement division’s workload is spent on investigating illegal marijuana growing on their lands. 

In Wisconsin alone, there were nine busts of large-scale marijuana growing operations between 2008 and 2012 on state, tribal, and national forest lands, resulting in the removal of over 45,800 plants, according to Wisconsin Department of Justice data compiled and reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. At an estimated retail value of $2,500 a pound, that’s over $114 million.

Growing marijuana in cornfields keeps it better hidden than growing in remote forests, albeit in plain sight. Helicopters and thermal imaging are only able to detect large patches of marijuana by color difference.

So marijuana growers use GIS technology and handheld GPS devices to spread out their growing into distributed networks of small patches, like the one I stumbled across. This tactic also reduces the risk of losing one’s marijuana crop: If one patch is found and destroyed, the rest of the plants are in other locations, known only to the GPS and the marijuana grower.

Man-made patterns in natural areas are a telltale signof marijuana to enforcement agencies; growing it in corn renders that giveaway moot, as everything is in rows.

The growing conditions for marijuana are also better in cornfields than remote forested land: Every input that corn farmers carefully measure and apply to maximize their crop growth—fertilizer, herbicide, irrigation—benefits the marijuana plants, too.

Forests and hillsides formerly chosen for their camouflage of illegal marijuana were barriers to sunlight, whereas cornfields are often in full sun.  Additionally, some forest evergreens acidify the soil around them, potentially inhibiting marijuana growth.

Arguably most importantly, marijuana can be transplanted into a field after corn is planted and grow to maturity before the corn is harvested. Which means corn farmers often don’t even know they had marijuana in their field until they’re sitting atop the combine in September.

This agricultural underworld is likely all across the Corn Belt of the United States, and has been for decades, as highlighted in Dr. Ralph Weisheit’s 1992 book, Domestic Marijuana: A Neglected Industry.  Yet it never appears in the numeric representations of corn growing, like the agricultural census.

Turns out those old-fashioned ways of farming were actually pretty smart

Rice paddy

This worked better in the olden days when fish hung out here too.

Remember those things humans did for thousands of years to feed themselves before we came up with all kinds of newfangled methods? We might want to go back to doing those old-school things.

The United Nations recently formed the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, a 115-country group that’s trying to bring down skyrocketing rates of species extinction. During meetings in Turkey this week, the group is discussing a strategy that it thinks could help protect biodiversity: a return to indigenous systems of farming and managing land.

One example of a traditional farming technique that the group hopes to resuscitate: the ancient Chinese practice of rearing fish in rice paddies. Adding fish to a paddy helps manage insect pests without the need for pesticides, provides natural fertilizer for the crop, feeds birds and other wildlife, and produces a sustainable meat supply for farming families.

Other examples mentioned by the group include fishing restrictions imposed by Pacific Island communities and traditional crop rotations practiced everywhere from Tanzania to Thailand.

“Indigenous and local knowledge … has played a key role in arresting biodiversity loss and conserving biodiversity,” the group’s chair, Zakri Abdul Hamid,told Reuters.

Traditional farming techniques can also help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That’s why IPBES officials are hopeful that efforts to resurrect them will be kick-started with the assistance of funds from the sale of carbon credits.

8 Delicious Examples Of Architecture + Farming (PHOTOS)

Fall has officially started, which means that the farmer’s market near our New York City office is bursting with apples, squashes, bitter greens, brussels sprouts …. can you tell we’re ravenous?

Which is OK—after all, architecture plays a big part in the world of thegourmand, with restaurants uniquely designed to enhance the dining experience. But architecture’s ties to the food industry go much deeper, and designers are beginning to revolutionize the way we regard (and manage) food production.

As cities continue to grow—with more than half the world residents now living in urban areas—architects, city planners, and businesses are finding new and innovative ways to provide for the populace.

Vertical farming and urban agriculture offer relief in metropolitan environments, helping to reduce the pressure of public food supply while also changing our traditional approach to food production. The Architecture + Farming Award will recognize the best projects in this category.

Brooklyn Grange Urban Rooftop Farm, Designed by Bromley Caldari Architects, Brooklyn, New York

The largest rooftop farm in the United States, Brooklyn Grange Urban Rooftop Farm is a 40,000 square foot for-profit farm situated atop the former Standard Motors manufacturing facility.

The Urban Food Jungle (2013 A+ Finalist) Designed by AECOM

This adaptable, aquaponic system proposes to grow not only organic fruits and vegetables, but freshwater fish too, generating nutrient-rich water in an interconnected ecosystem.

Bright Dawn Farm Designed by Freecell Levittown, New York

As a part of Open House by Droog led by Diller Scofidio + Renfro,

Freecell designed a suburban farm that can grow hundreds of pounds of produce which can then be sold to the local community.

Pasona HQ Tokyo (2013 A+ Finalist) Designed by Kono Designs Tokyo, Japan

Kono Designs has morphed Pasona’s nine-story, 215,000-square-foot corporate office into an omnivore’s delight, with a double-skin green facade, offices, an auditorium, cafeterias, a rooftop garden, and urban farming facilities integrated within the building.

(The main lobby has a rice paddy—and a broccoli field!) Public seminars, lectures, and internships hope to boost Japan’s dwindling farming industry and equip a new generation of growers with the business acumen and hands-on experience to start their own traditional or urban farms.

FARMADELPHIA Designed by Front Studio Architects Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

FARMADELPHIA proposes to transform the urban environment by introducing bucolic farmlands into the Philadelphia’s urban fabric, combining both city and rural lifestyles.

Fresh Moves Mobile Produce Market (2013 A+ Jury Winner) Designed by Architecture for Humanity Chicago Chicago, Illinois

This (literal!) meals-on-wheels services provides fresh fruits and veggies to food deserts on the south and west sides of Chicago. Utilizing partnerships with local stakeholders, schools, churches, community organizations, Fresh Moves also works to empower the people it serves, offering nutrition information and health education to these areas.

Fifth Street Farm Project Designed by Handel Architects New York, New York

The Fifth Street Farm Project is a 3,000-square-foot green roof project on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Situated atop the Robert Simon School Complex, the green roof gave teachers the opportunity to integrate farming and plant life into the students’ curriculum.

Biosphere 2 Oracle, ArizonaDesigned by Biosphere Design Corporation; Allen, Augustine, Hawes, and Dempster

The 40-acre complex, built between 1987 and 1991, was originally designed to serve as a closed ecological system. It featured an agricultural area and human living/working space;

the goal was to study the interactions between humans, farming, and technology within this “natural” environment. Today, the site is owned by the University of Arizona. 

Seawater greenhouse agriculture with Ocean Distiller Farm

Project description:

“Oceans and seas. A naive question: how can one suffer from malnutrition and dehydration while being surrounded by oceans and seas, almost inexhaustible sources of water and food supply. Answers are now well known as they become more obvious: intensive fishing is slowly but surely devastating the sea population while salted water is unsuitable for drinking and for agriculture. Modern technology, when contextualized in this sustainable development era, can passively tame this malnutrition issue for populations near oceans and seas. That is what the project OCEAN DISTILLER FARM is aiming at.”

“Goal & concept: The OCEAN DISTILLER FARM concept aims at populations living by the oceans and seas and which are suffering from malnutrition. Two inventions using sea water inspired this project: the sea water distiller greenhouse and the greenhouse agriculture. The seawater distiller greenhouse turns salted water into clear water through a steam recovery system. Greenhouse agriculture offers a favorable artificial weather for farming and allows the recovery of water sweating from vegetables as well as the water used for drainage. Its usage only requires the sun as energy, seawater, fertile grounds and a few seeds.

Figures OCEAN DISTILLER FARM is a vessel which diameter is 80 meters and height reaches 50 meters. Its black distillation surface is 3600m2 wide. Evaporating and taking control over this water would allow the irrigation of 5000m2 wide of farmland. Therefore, OCEAN DISTILLER FARM would generate additional food supply for a hundred people. The number of vessels at sea would vary depending on the population.”

“Morphogenesis: In between seas and oceans, the OCEAN DISTILLER FARM’s design is inspired by the anatomy of a jellyfish, which many levels of transparency reveal various depths and perceptions. A first space will be translucent, isolated from outside by an ethylene tetrafluorethylene membrane, allowing a solid isolation, preserving as much as possible the solar energy. This space will lean on a black surface above which a thin quantity of salted water will stagnate to be dedicated to evaporation. The conveyance of salted water will be controlled in order to maintain the best depth allowing its temperature raise and therefore its evaporation. This space will be hot and humid, unbearable to any human being and unsuitable for agriculture.

This second space, also covered by an EFTE membrane, will also include direct air intake from the outside, facilitating climatic regulation, suitable for the culture of various vegetables. By analogy with the jellyfish, the ectoderm would be the first membrane of the greenhouse, the mesoglea the evaporation space, the endoderm would be the second membrane that would protect the nervous system but the abundant generated vegetation.”

“OCEAN DISTILLER FARM doesn’t claim it is going to solve all food supply problems by itself. However, the vessel could bring an effective source of additional food supply for population suffering from malnutrition. The vessel doesn’t imply any expensive infrastructures; it only requires the transportation (a boat) of the harvested resources. Its underwater-life-inspired design matches with its marine environment. It will be a source of hope in places where the drought and the sea coexist.”

Urban Farming On Rooftops hits New York

Terrace Farm

Concepts for vertical forests and farms have grown in popularity due to the sustainable future they represent. Not only does the idea of creating vertical high-rise buildings that include trees and vegetation seem like an innovative and interesting idea, but the stylised renderings submitted by the industry’s best also help to create the urban paradise image. That is however, also their downfall.

Here at Designbuild Source we’re always interested unique concepts and outside-the-box thinking, but there is also a sense of disappointment that sometimes comes when these concepts can’t make it off the page. It is fantastic that sustainable concepts are being created, but even better when they come to fruition, in the fashion of Stefano Boeri’s ‘Bosco Verticale’.

So while vertical farm concepts are to be applauded, their construction deserves much more.

New York Riverpark Urban Farm

New York has been the focus of intensive urban planning, especially in relation to urban farming. Fantastic concepts have been designed that create imagery of giant lush vertical forests, and amazing futuristic spaces, all of which have a very distinct focus on the US city. Perhaps because of its chic nature, stereotypically trendy population and dense population, New York has become something of a Mecca for urban farm concepts.

What some designers are missing in the maze of bright greens and blues of stylish concept images, is that for some time now, New Yorkers have been making the most of their extensive rooftop space and creating their own ground up rooftop farming systems.

New York’s Riverpark Farm is one of the city’s largest, most iconic, ‘most urban’ rooftop farms. Built as a retrofit of 15,000 square feet of high rise roof space at the Alexandria Centre, the farm is the brainchild of Sisha Ortúzar, along with co-founders Jeffrey Zurofsky and Scarlet Shore.

Verticle Farm New York

The farm is a testament to sustainability on the ground level. Not only does it have positive green roof aspects which include building insulation and pollution filtering,  it also completely provides fresh produce to Ortúzar’s restaurant Riverpark.

It is not simply the fact that this urban farm has been undertaken, but its sheer scale. The farm has a daily production of 50-100 pounds of cucumbers alone. Michael Grady Robertson, adviser to the farm as well as owner of his own ‘Grady’s Farm’, as seen in the video above, is positive that the New York city climate will offer a completely new opportunity for a strong growth in plants that would not be suited to traditional farming environments.

It is just that simple. Buying and shipping costs are eliminated and the chef has complete control of pesticides (in this case none are used), the fruits and vegetables needed and the quality of produce. As with most sustainability initiatives, urban farming just makes sense. No miraculous renderings. No state of the art equipment. Just three people, with one simple idea.