Dickenson Despommier *Photo by Sarah Lagan
Dickenson Despommier *Photo by Sarah Lagan

Opening his speech, Dickenson Despommier described futurist Buckminster Fullers’ vision of a domed city that protects us all from the natural world. Fuller saw nature not as our friend but as our enemy.

But Despommier, Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia Univsersity, finds that hard to agree.

He said: “It’s us that have to protect nature from ourselves.”

The focus of his talk was the idea of vertical farming as “a solution to feeding the world in the 21st century amid a pending food crisis.”

Future farms could be housed in multi story greenhouses as the farming land accommodating our growing population runs out. 

New technologies

He described how new technologies such as the improved LED lighting as the energy source for plants, the adjustment and maintenance of their nutrition, and making sure their roots have enough oxygen have opened the door to a new industry — indoor farming on a grand scale.

“If you put indoor farming and technology together you get what we came up with as a partial solution to the world’s food crisis and that is vertical farming.”

Quoting Albert Einstein he said: “If you’re idea doesn’t sound crazy, it’s probably not a good one.’ This idea sounded crazy.”

Despommier listed the many advantages that vertical farming has including no agricultural run-off, saving the oceans and estuaries from pollution, year-round crop production and fewer crops lost from severe weather events with the exception, perhaps, of a major hurricane.

He said: “There are many more advantages — it uses less water than outdoor farming and there is no need for chemicals to ward off weeds and insects. It also allows the restoration of damaged eco-systems  and that’s the one I’m most passionate about.

“Farming has had the most impact on those systems. It would also create lots of new jobs, every mayor likes to hear this and could use up abandoned city properties. you  can grow bio-fuels and other plants to creating an eco city. That’s what we want to do and we are looking to nature for the solution.”