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The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century Hardcover – October 12, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; 1ST edition (October 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312611390
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312611392
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #113,036 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Product Description
When Columbia professor Dickson Despommier set out to solve America's food, water, and energy crises, he didn't just think big - he thought up. Despommier's stroke of genius, The Vertical Farm, has excited scientists, architects, and politicians around the globe. These farms, grown inside skyscrapers, would provide solutions to many of the serious problems we currently face, including: allowing year-round crop production; providing food to areas currently lacking arable land; immunity to weather-related crop failure; re-use of water collected by de-humidification of the indoor environment; new employment opportunities; no use of pesticides, fertilizers, or herbicides; drastically reduced dependence on fossil fuels; no crop loss due to shipping or storage; no agricultural runoff; and, many more. Vertical farming can be located on abandoned city properties, creating new urban revenue streams. They will employ lots of skilled and unskilled labor. They can be run on wind, solar, tidal, and geothermal energy. They can be used to grow plants for pharmaceutical purposes or for converting gray water back into drinking water. In the tradition of the bestselling The World Without Us, this is a totally original landmark work destined to become a classic. With stunning illustrations and clear and entertaining writing, this book will appeal to anyone concerned about America's future.

A Look Inside Vertical Farm
(Click on Images to Enlarge)

Pyramid Farm by Eric Ellingsen and Dickson Despommier Urban Farm, Urban Epicenter by Jung Min Nam
The Dragonfly Tower by Vincent Callebaut Harvest Green by Romses Architects

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Despommier, an award-winning professor of microbiology and public and environmental health sciences, adds his voice to those calling for agricultural reform. It’s time to confront agrochemical pollution, he declares, and to convert waste into energy, conserve water, stop cutting down forests for fields, and make cities the equivalent of healthy ecosystems. It’s time, Despommier believes after more than a decade of study and brainstorming, for vertical farming. Farms that “would raise food without soil in specially constructed buildings”: energy- and water-efficient high-rise greenhouses using hydroponic and aeroponic growing techniques. The challenges involved are many, Despommier cheerfully concedes, but the advantages he cites are profound. In making his case, Despommier offers a fresh look at the history of farming, a staggering overview of the health and environmental problems associated with industrial agriculture, and a sobering report on current food and water shortages soon to be exacerbated by rapid climate change and exponential population growth. A visionary known the world over, Despommier believes that the “vertical farm is the keystone enterprise for establishing an urban-based ecosystem” and for “restoring balance between our lives and the rest of nature.” A provocative introduction to a pragmatic approach to growing safe, nutritious, local food. --Donna Seaman

More About the Author

For 38 years, I have taught at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. Now, as a professor emeritus, I have more time to devote to three of my passions: fishing, cooking and sharing vertical farming with the world.

Vertical farming grew out of my Medical Ecology course, in which students link natural processes with living on earth, from the point of view of being human. Taking as a starting point the fact that humans exist as part of, not apart from, the complex systems comprising our Earth, Medical Ecology is intent on describing those natural processes that directly affect human well-being and exploring how we can improve our lot while still valuing nature qua nature.

Vertical farming is a response to many problems (outlined on related to our interaction with the natural world. The first step, as my Medical Ecology students know, is to be aware of how the human world overlaps with the rest of nature. Once aware, we are then better able to avoid those situations which threaten man's well-being.

For me, it's not enough to eat organic veggies and a freshly-caught brook trout if the rest of the planet is still entrenched in using poorly-designed systems that despoil nature and run high human health risks. As far as I know, this is our only world, and we only get one shot at using it right. Vertical farming offers a way to integrate many of our most harmful systems--e.g. factory farming, municipal waste management, etc.--in a way that actually produces a positive effect on the health of us and our planet. It won't be easy, but humans are incredibly talented when we put our minds to something. Or better yet, a fortune cookie reminds me that a stronger appeal would aimed be elsewhere:

"Nothing is impossible to a willing heart."

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Customer Reviews

Dr. Dickson Despommier has done a huge amount of study on vertical farming.
K. Davis
The book drags you through some rather boring back story for a good chunk of the reading before it gets to the information about vertical farming.
Livin' La Vida Low-Carb Man
Part of this may be due to the fact that the book feels like it was written a page at a time, with each page its own essay, as such.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

105 of 120 people found the following review helpful By Scott Keating on November 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Pure drivel" is how I would describe this book. Absolutely no content. I heard about this book when its author was interviewed on NPR radio. I was intrigued by the idea of vertical farming, and thought the book would tell me something about it. The book completely failed me.

The first 131 pages of the book (out of a total of 268 pages) do not discuss the vertical farm AT ALL! Instead, the first 131 pages consist of a directionless wander through the history of the planet and of mankind, including discussion of ecosystems, "technospheres" (whatever they are!), the dustbowl of the 1930s, the spread of infectious agents, the Bible and the Reverand Billy Graham, John Steinbeck and "The Grapes of Wrath", the US Civil War, the oil industry, dynamite, the Atomic Bomb, injustice and inequality, climate change, Charles Darwin and the Galapagos Islands, genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), and HIV/AIDS. Most of these subject have little, if anything to do with vertical farming.

I got excited when I reached the 2nd half of the book and Chapter 5 entitled "The Vertical Farm: Advantages." Finally, I thought, a discussion of the vertical farm. Alas, no such luck. Very little of the second half of the book addresses vertical farming. What discussion there is about vertical farming addresses either technologies most of us know about -- such as hydroponic growing and photovoltaic cells -- or about ideas that are so far-fetched they are hardly worth discussing. The words "could", "would" and "should" are a prevalent as rats in a sewer.

If you want to get the entire content of the book, refer to pages 145-146 where a list of eleven advantages of vertical farming are given (double-spaced, I presume, to take up more space than they deserve).
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48 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Walter Mountford on December 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I regularly read business books of various genres and was extremely disappointed in "The Vertical Farm". After a hundred pages that labor over the history of world agriculture and endless environmental rants, Dr. Dickson Despommier doesn't offer the reader even a shred of economic or cost and return data to substantiate the vertical farm. Nothing. After 256 pages, he simply closes his book by literally asking the reader to "suspend your own sense of reality and imagine along with me" of what could be. Holy smokes, sounds like Dr. Despommier has had some particularly fine success with hydroponic growing!

However, let's just do a back-of-the-envelope feasibility. The only economics presented by Dr. Despommier is the assertion that hydroponic farming can produce 10 to 20 times the crop output per acre than that of a traditionally maintained farm field. Let's run with that and assume an acre of Iowa farmland costs $10,000 or around $.25 per square foot. Assuming a median of 15 times the efficiency of the traditional farm, the hydroponic equivalent cost would be $3.75 per square foot, which will be our baseline comparison to solely the construction cost of the vertical farm. As you read through the book, no expense is spared in the vertical farm concept. It has at least the cost of a high rise office building shell (say, $75 per SF) plus essentially a hermetically sealed, clean room environment, tons of growing equipment, photovoltaic panels, and artificial illumination (easily an additional $225 per SF). Let's add land cost, design cost, financing costs, and other fees and the vertical farm is around $375 per SF compared to the Iowa farm equivalent of $3.75 or around 100 times more expensive before a seed has been planted!
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34 of 42 people found the following review helpful By ringo TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
News stories, I was taught in school, always include "who, what, when, where, why". And science stories, the old joke went, always include "who, what, when, where, wow". For green tech, authors tend to trade the "why" for a "woe". And then, of course, there's the "woo".

The book starts with the woe:

The history of agriculture (starting with the Neanderthals), the technological fall from grace, and then heart wrenching descriptions of the coming agricultural apocalypse. Is it correct? I don't know. But I'm pretty sure that, despite the provocative mental picture it evokes, restaurants in New York don't necessarily put out food waste in green plastic garbage bags (there are multiple composting programs), and the author's claim that "the Spanish troops received the lasting 'gift' of syphilis ... undoubtedly acquired from raping and pillaging sorties, which they then introduced into Europe" is hyperbole (unless he meant that they introduced raping and pillaging sorties to Europe? I'm pretty sure Europe had those already). But in this book's universe, there are wastrel societies, and steward societies, and nary the twain shall meet. (Except for those Conquistadors).

The over simplification of history leads into an oversimplification of science. "<GMOs have> come under attack because of a perception on the part of the public that GMOs are potentially harmful and should not be allowed. In fact, they have been modified to resist droughts, attack from a variety of plant pathogens, and increased amounts of herbicides." (page 130) (Try googling "roundup-ready" for why this isn't such a hot idea).
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