Photo Gallery Feeding the World with Vertical Farms

Agricultural researchers believe that building indoor farms in the middle of cities could help solve the world's hunger problem. Experts say that vertical farming could feed up to 10 billion people and make agriculture independent of the weather and the need for land. There's only one snag: The urban farms need huge amounts of energy.
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The Harvest Green Project, seen here, was a winning entry in a recent architecture competition focused on structures designed to guide greener development. Vertical farm designs like this one may play a role in the fight against world hunger -- if such ideas can be successfully transferred from sketches and models to life-size structures.

Foto: Romses Architects
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The idea of vertical farming in a modern urban context first surfaced about 10 years ago. Then, it was just a dream. But over the past two years, the first prototypes have been developed.

Foto: Weber Thompson
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Proponents say that vertical farming can help solve the impending world food shortage. By 2050, the UN predicts that the global population will surpass 9 billion people. Given current agricultural productivity rates, the Vertical Farm Project estimates that an agricultural area equal in size to roughly half of South America will be needed to feed this larger population.

Foto: Romses Architects
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Vertical Farming designs like these don't rely on overused, unfertile land. In regulated indoor spaces, crops are immune to pests and cold snaps. Here, the influence of East Asian rice terraces can be seen.

Foto: WORK Architecture Company
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Critics point out that there are still big hurdles to be overcome before vertical farming can be successfully implemented. The need to power artificial light for the plants is one issue that needs to be addressed.

Foto: Romses Architects
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Despite the challenges, vertical farming experiments like this one in Suwon, South Korea, give many hope that vertical farming may still make the transition from the drawing board to reality.

Foto: Heinrich Holtgreve
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Inside the three-story building, agricultural scientists cultivate lettuce plants over 450 square meters (4,800 square feet).

Foto: Rural Development Administration
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Heads of lettuce are lined up in stacked layers. At the very bottom, small seedlings are thriving, while further up, more mature plants are nearly ready for picking.

Foto: Rural Development Administration
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The vertical farm in Suwon is already a success in one respect: Tourists are eager to see the project in action. Unlike traditional greenhouses in the area, the Suwon vertical farm uses no pesticides and also recycles all of its water.

Foto: Heinrich Holtgreve
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Vertical farming has already found some success in the Netherlands: In Den Bosch, three stories underground, the PlantLab company successfully cultivates roses and decorative shrubs, as well as edible crops including beans, cucumbers and corn.

Foto: PlantLab
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The plants in Suwon are illuminated with red, white and blue lights. The exact wavelength under which the plants grow best varies and has to be adjusted based on experiments.

Foto: Heinrich Holtgreve
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Machines plant the seeds in Suwon. Such vertical farms function completely without sunlight.

Foto: Heinrich Holtgreve
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Vertical farming holds especial promise for South Korea, which relies heavily on food imports and ranks fifth-to-list in an OECD ranking of food security. Natural disasters, climate change and rising food prices increase the threat of food shortages.

Foto: Heinrich Holtgreve
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Dickson Despommier, a professor emeritus of environmental health sciences and microbiology at New York's Columbia University, is a proponent of vertical farming.

Foto: Marlene Bloom/ AP
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