Growing up

Dickson Despommier dreams of strawberries, zucchini, beans and more than 100 crops climbing toward the skies—inside a skyscraper. There are hothouses, greenhouses, living walls, why not a vertical garden?

An exciting but completely fictitious rumor circulated throughout southern Nevada earlier this year that said a $200 million vertical garden project—the first in the world—would be built in Las Vegas by 2010 and grow enough food to feed 72,000 people for a year, as well as be a major tourist attraction. While that particular project was a hoax, Despommier, a Columbia University professor, is quite serious about his idea. He envisions 30-foot high farms that could feed 50,000 people a year. He even got a list from NASA of produce that can be grown indoors.

With an estimated 9 billion people expected on the Earth by 2050, and 60 percent who already live in urban areas, Despommier thinks a vertical garden could help reduce greenhouse gases as well as feed the planet. He told Popular Science, “40.5 percent of the Earth is used for agriculture. As the population grows, the demand for food goes up, and more land is cleared for farming. Come up with an alternative to traditional agriculture, and you already have the strategy for sequestering carbon dioxide: planting trees.”