Thursday, July 21, 2011

Can Louisville Grow Up?

I've been reading about vertical farming for a while and I think this is something that Louisville should push. If you're not familiar with the idea of vertical farming it's a rather simple concept. Vertical farming is basically growing food in a multi-level building. Here is a video explaining the concept of vertical farming..

Most ideas for vertical farms are futuristic skyscrapers that look like they are right out of Star Wars.  Most of the renderings show these big beautiful buildings surrounded by lush gardens and grand urban landscapes. The idea is pretty cool and doesn't seem to far fetched and I'm surprised that there hasn't been more movement on this front. In fact, I don't think there has been a vertical farm built. 

There are many reasons to consider vertical farming. One of those is that by some estimates crop yields will be down 20% because of global warming. By the year 2050 the world will have at least another 3 billion people to feed. We just don't have enough land to do it. 

Those are fine stats, but is this something Louisville should even consider? We aren't exactly a huge city with millions of people to feed. Most vertical farming buildings I've seen are large skyscrapers with all sorts of super cool tech built in. Solar panels, rain water catch basins, wind turbines, and the best of hydroponics. I'm not sure Louisville is ready for that. But what Louisville may be ready for is more of a proof of concept smaller prototype vertical farm. Which may be much more valuable than building the 30 story mega tech skyscraper.  

If Louisville were to take on a project of this nature I would suggest we start with a small 5-6 story building in Louisville's West end. Western Louisville has several advantages, one, there are several old warehouses that could either be converted or demolished for such a project, and two, West Louisville has access to rail, the highway, and the river. Once the farm is built you have to a way to ship the produce. The produce that the vertical farm would not only provide much needed jobs for the West Louisville, but the organic produce that it produces would also in be cheaper. Thereby making it much more affordable to the residents of not only West Louisville, but the region as whole. 

There should also be a processing plant either built on site or very close. This would allow the produce that is being produced to be frozen and or canned and shipped to retail outlets all over. One of the advantages of hydroponic/vertical farming is that plants grow quickly and they grow year round. The processing plant should be very busy. 

I would also like to see the first vertical farm be a public/private partnership with the University of Louisville, University of Kentucky, and Kentucky State University included. KSU has an aquaculture program, UK has a great agriculture program, and UL has an urban mission. A one of kind project like this would be greatly enhanced by research capabilities of these great universities. 

I'm not talking about just building a vertical farm, but for Louisville to be the vertical farm capital of the world. Just like UL and the city are building Nucleus, so we can compete in the biotech arena. We can build vertical farms and lead the next wave of the green revolution.  This is Louisville's chance to get a head of the curve and be first mover in the next big thing. We could become the silicon valley of sustainable food revolution. 


  1. I would love to see this idea done with re-use of existing vacant brick buildings about town. Like that 12 story building on Logan street.

  2. Hi Haven-

    It's an interesting post. Do you think there is the potential for an authentic effort in Louisville. Have you spoken to the Mayor, City Council (not sure how Louisville is governed), the Universities you mentioned, local farmers, local real estate developers, etc.

    Sometimes concerned citizens and community leaders can make these things happen . . .