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Large Scale Urban Agriculture by Tom Bosschaert



1. Introduction

Food is such a basic asset and requirement to our society, that it is often overlooked. Our ways of producing the majority of our food has in many ways changed little over time, while virtually everything else, the way we live, work and interact, has changed dramatically.

We have a choice in how we produce food, and while the world is changing, it is important to investigate alternatives to our traditional way of food production.

One reason for doing so is that the traditional way of producing food has turned into a specialization of crop areas, monocrop cultures, that result in poor ecological diversity. Second, major transport operations are necessary to distribute the crops across continents. Thirdly, current agriocultural methods can use more than 80 times the amount of fossil fuels in energy than what it produces in food calories.

Most importantly, our agricultural land capital is decreasing, and the world’s population and living standards ever increasing, with a large part already having difficulty securing food. While to some extent world hunger is due to unequal distribution and politics, the pressure on marginal areas is measurably going up1 .

Vertical Farm concept design by Except from 2007

This essay explores the possibility of large scale organized agriculture in an urban setting, and options to increase the world’s supply of agricultural capacity, reduce food related transportation, assist in waste and water filtration loads of cities, and other benefits.

2. Need for expansion and integration of agricultural land

The formula to calculate the surface of a sphere was devised by Archimedes of Syracuse around 150 BC, along with a few other useful things that allowed us to escape a feudal existence and enter the age of what we believe to be developed culture. Since then we can safely say that our planet seems to have a fixed surface area, of which about 70% consists of water and of the 30% that remains only 13% is potential arable land2, and of this only roughly half is used as agricultural land. Due to erosion and desertification large areas of arable land have become degraded, up to


75% in central America3. While the total area of agricultural land keeps growing (4.5 billion in 1955 to 4.93 billion in 19964 ), it does not keep pace with the growing population or its increasing food consumption per capita (24% more than in 19645 ).

Already large numbers of people are succumbing to starvation or on the brink of it, and threats to the food supply such as the use of food crops for fuel such as Ethanol seem to suggest these circumstances are expected to worsen rather than alleviate in the near future. In short, decent agricultural land is in short demand while an unstoppable population growth of the world stresses the current supply beyond its capacity. Current estimates for the world population reveal a growth of 40% in just 40 years time6, dragging the numbers in an ever increasing downward spiral.

It is important to realize that the remaining portion of arable land that is

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