Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Vertical Farming – A new and original approach to food production being taken in our city.

“Vertical farming”- sounds slightly odd, doesn't it? Think of it like applying the same logic behind building a block of flats instead of a row of houses to agriculture. It’s an idea with international recognition, but what’s Manchester got to do with it?

The concept, strongly and vocally backed by Dr Dickson Despommier, a professor at Columbia University, who believes it is a plausible and viable solution to ever-increasing urban populations and meeting food demand. His website claims that 80% of suitable land is in use, and you don’t need to be that sharp with maths realise that could be a problem.

The question beckons; faced with a limited potential for expansion using mainstream methods, what do we do?

Well, how about we do the same for farming that we do for housing? Indoor farming has been used for centuries; it’s not a new idea. Perhaps it just needs a fresh take on the concept?

So we build up? Sounds like a plan. But is it the only option? Can’t we take the zero-waste approach to this? Why not reuse and recycle somewhere for our new farm?

As alluded to at the beginning of this piece, Manchester does indeed have a role to play. The BBC reported this last week on plans to re-use a derelict office block in Wythenshawe and turn it into a Despommier-inspired 8-storey high vertical greenhouse.

In a pioneering application of the vertical farm thinking, Alpha House (as it was known) will be transformed into Alpha Farm for the 2013 Manchester International Festival, producing all sorts from leaf and root vegetables. There’s also very exciting plans afoot to accommodate fish, bees and even hens across the building.

What a truly original and inspiring idea. We’ve all seen some of the old office blocks scattered around the city- time we started re-using them! Through creating more locally grown, fresher produce we could really unlock the potential of this idea. With proper support and backing vertical farms could be a way of supporting local economies and communities whilst creating jobs throughout the city.

What about all those harmful pesticides and fertilisers? Well, done in a controlled and closed environment using organic methods would theoretically reduces their usage to zero. Through the use of aeroponics, aquaponics and hydroponics harnesses the power to recycle water, reduce soil erosion and protecting the wider ecosystem.

Of course there are downsides; it’s a new technique with limited practical testing (especially on a large-scale), old buildings may need substantial refurbishment to be suitable for growing crops and the local infrastructure may not support agricultural production.

But in my opinion, you’ve got to put the effort in to reap the rewards. Of course its not as simple as throwing a few grow-bags down in an empty office block but as a long-term alternative I think the effort should be made to support such as initiative.

This is the point where Manchester truly has the potential to be front-runners in a new and exciting venture.

It seems that soon gone are the days of having a window box with a few vegetables in it… now the sky’s the limit!


PS: Have a look at this video for more about vertical farming.

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