The Rise Of The Vertical Farm by Dickson Despommier
The concept of the vertical farm arose in my classroom in 1999 as a theoretical construct as to how to deal with a wide variety of environmental issues. It has been eleven years since that idea was carried forward by 106 of my graduate students. Today, I am pleased to share that several vertical farms have been erected between 2010 and the present.

The first examples are mostly prototypes and are located in Japan, Korea, Holland, and England. I know of at least two more in the planning and fund-raising stages. Both of these are in the United States. The advent of such ambitious projects, given the short time between the emergence of the concept to operational prototype is astounding, to say the least. I personally visited the one in Seoul, Korea this year, two months after it opened (March 2011).

It is owned and operated by the Korean government and the building’s supervisor, Dr. Min, informed me during my visit that the project was begun as the direct result of learning about the concept of the vertical farm at the 2008 Seoul Digital Forum, at which I spoke. Their eye-catching building is three stories tall and is designed to test various aspects of farming in a controlled environment on multiple floors. Lighting and automation are high on their list of things to work on. They are growing mainly leafy green vegetables using high tech LED lighting, and they want to begin indoor aquaculture, as well. Next to the VF is a much larger, newly built seed bank building (Agrobiodiversity) that stores all varieties of crop seeds and native Korean plants. Seed viability testing will be facilitated by the vertical farm. This is an ideal secondary use for the concept and the Korean government should be heartily congratulated for their wonderful efforts.

The vertical farm in Kyoto, Japan ( is housed in a 4 story quanset hut-like building, the rough size of a 747 hangar (2851 square meters) on 4780 square meters of land. Inside, there are many examples of automated growing systems being tested. I have not had the pleasure of visiting that facility-yet.

PlantLab ( is located in Den Bosch, The Netherlands. It is currently under construction and is based on a smaller prototype that has been up and running for several years. Everything is grown by LED lighting, and they claim that their experiments, using a wide variety of LED fixtures, give a 3X increase in plant yield using precisely controlled frequencies of light in the visible red and blue spectrum. I have no knowledge as to when they will finish their construction phase and go into full production. All growing will be indoors with no natural light sources. In addition, they are putting it three stories underground, making PlantLab the world’s first and perhaps only “up-side-down” vertical farm!

A demonstration vertical farm of five stories is under construction in Manchester, England. It takes advantage of an abandoned warehouse and the designers plan to raise poultry in addition to the standard variety of indoor vegetables and fruits. I will have the pleasure of speaking at the opening of their vertical farm at the Manchester International Festival this July 17, 2011.

A vertical farm of five stories is planned for Milwaukee, Wisconsin by Will Allen’s Growing Power organization, in collaboration with the Sweet Water Foundation (aquaponics components). The architect is Allen Washatko, the same architect that designed the Aldo Leopold Center and the International Crane Recovery Center. Both of these ecologically oriented, beautifully executed projects are also in Wisconsin. Milwaukee’s vertical farm is in the final stages of fund-raising.

A three story vertical farm is planned for Jackson, Wyoming. It is in the early stages of fund-raising. Stay tuned for more on this one.

I am truly amazed at how fast the idea of the vertical farm had caught on (some 40 million hits on Google as of June 12, 2011). I congratulate all those associated with these wonderful projects who had the courage and the conviction of their belief that urban agriculture in tall buildings would soon revolutionize the way we eat, and live in cities. More to come on these wonderful projects, and on the many others that will no doubt spring up in the future.


DR. DICKSON DESPOMMIER spent thirty-eight years as a professor of microbiology and public health in environmental health sciences at Columbia, where he won the Best Teacher award six times. In 2003, he was awarded the American Medical Student Association Golden Apple Award for teaching. He has addressed audiences at leading universities including Harvard and MIT, and he has also been invited to speak at the United Nations. In addition, he has been asked by governments of China, India, Mexico, Jordan, Brazil, Canada, and Korea to work on environmental problems. Despommier lives in Fort Lee, New Jersey.

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