Hydroponic gardening has been around for centuries, but it wasn't really used publicly until the 1970's. It is, simply put, a method of growing plants without using soil. The grower uses a precise combination of nutrients, along with water and light to cultivate plants with just as much success as traditional methods. The concept of Skyfarming, or vertical farming, was first made public in 1915 by Mr. Gilbert Ellis Bailey in his book Vertical Farming.
Bailey's idea of vertical farming was at least partially related to the fallout and ending of the First World War. He wrote about political entities fostering peace through demanding that swords be altered to become pruning hooks. Similarly, Bailey's idea was to use explosives for farming deeper, going down to increase land and secure larger crops instead of spreading out. Bailey urged farmers to concentrate "on less land and become an intensive rather than an extensive agriculturist". Now, it is fairly easy to recognize the absurdity of exploding massive holes in the earth and then attempting to grow crops on the vertical walls of the holes. Nevertheless, the concept of growing on a vertical slant is not so absurd. Perhaps if his suggestion to use explosives in destroying soil were removed, Bailey's idea would have been met with a little more merit.
Today, Skyfarming and vertical farming mean something just a little bit different. Skyfarming is the ability to cultivate plant or animal life inside skyscrapers or on vertically positioned surfaces. After Bailey made his assertion of farming on the walls of blown out holes, two other gentlemen came along and added to the idea. Architect Ken Yeang proposed a concept by which skyscrapers provided a common planting space for residents of the building. Mixed use buildings in urban settings would provide a way for people to feed themselves and/or the community.
Ecologist Dickson Despommier was the next gentleman to offer a vertical farming concept. His idea was to create buildings with several stories entirely dedicated to vertical farming. From an environmental point of view, Despommier felt natural landscapes were toxic and the only way to cultivate healthier plants and animals was within a controlled environment. For him, Skyfarming was a way to avoid the "embedded energy and toxicity" produced on the earth's landscape. Despommier's version of vertical farming encompasses hydroponics and aeroponics, as both have the ability to grow plants in a hermetically sealed environment.
In regards to the actual existence of Skyfarming, both Yeang and Despommier have been involved in projects. In 1992 Ken Yeang's Bioclimatic Skyscraper was brought to life as the Menara Mesiniaga in Malaysia. It was just the first of four such projects, but so successful it earned Yeang the Aga Kahn Award for Architecture. As a multi-level, dual purpose building the Menara has become a world standard for the concept of Skyfarming on a large scale. Combining living units with space for soil-based food production has meant larger opportunities for residents to maintain independence and a healthy lifestyle.
For Despommier, his work as a professor at Columbia University brought him to a point of challenging his students to create a system by which the entire population of Manhattan could be fed from rooftop gardens. When that concept proved inadequate, he and his students came up with an idea for the vertical farm. Despommier told the media the vertical farm would be cared for by automatic watering systems that would also be responsible for releasing nutrients to the hydroponically grown plants. Apparently the use of a gas chromatograph would inform staff when plants were ready for harvest. Scientists and architects around the world became very interested in the plans made by Despommier and his students, but so far no one has built one according to the hydroponic philosophy.
According to The Vertical Farm Project 2009 by Despommier, approximately 80% of the world population will live in urban areas. Additionally, the number of people on earth will increase to over 6 billion. Logic tells us it will take far more land than is available to feed all the world's people, so perhaps vertical farming could be an answer. What may be an interim solution is the use of hydroponic growing. There is no land needed, no soil, just water and nutrients. If our food is grown indoors, the hazards of weather and insect infestation are removed. It would also be much easier to cultivate organic foods. Skyfarming may not be the answer to all the world's problems, but it sure could boost the production of food for second and third world countries that need it the most.