Vertical Farms for the City of Zion

May 19, 2008 | 9 comments
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A while back I tried to imagine what a plan for the city of Zion would be like if we were imagining a great city instead of Joseph Smith’s town of 10,000.

I only got as far temples topping the skyline and little rivulets of water running down the skyscraper sides to water the balcony gardens. But I wasn’t thinking hard enough. I never even thought of vertical farming and rooftop windscrews. They should have been obvious. The only remaining question is whether each ward/residential-tower will have its own couple of floors of farm, or whether several stakes will club together for a joint vertical welfare farm. Either way, at a billion bucks or so a pop for each farm, we’ll have to bring back local member contributions to the building budget. When you see the doorman at Woodruff Towers holding a cake-sale sign, you know the WT Ward hydroponic pump is on the blink again.

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Vertical farming probably isn’t practical, and as with Joseph Smith’s original plat, the idea isn’t to come up with a rigid plan for a city that can be followed to the letter if ever put into practice. The idea is to come up with an ideal. That being the case, vertical farming as described in the linked article doesn’t fit. Its too complex and technical and roboticized and in Zion there can be specialists everywhere but everyone still needs to be able to get their hands dirty, or wet if you’re using hydroponics.

9 Responses to Vertical Farms for the City of Zion

  1. clark on May 19, 2008 at 3:47 pm

    So everyone helps fix the robots? What’s wrong with that?

  2. Lincoln Cannon on May 19, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    I suspect the robots will fix themselves — just like we do.

  3. Ben H on May 19, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    Er, I would think the big problem with stacking farms would be that you only get one layer of sun. If you use reflectors or something to spread the sunlight out over a larger surface area you diminish the intensity, and most crops grow best in full sun, right? So gardening on the roof, and on the exterior facade would presumably be the way to go. Or if you are counting on sun shining at a funky angle in high latitudes, you could have garden space proportional to the height of your building and redirect the sun a bit with reflectors. But then the taller your building, the bigger the shadow in which you can’t grow effectively. So rooftops and sunny exteriors would seem to be the way to go–at least, wherever you aren’t using the sun for photovoltaics . . .

  4. Adam Greenwood on May 19, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    The website isn’t very informative about details, though some of the illustrations show internal lighting. Its probably worth offering prize money to subsidize a proof-of-concept, but I doubt the idea is practical.

  5. green mormon architect on May 19, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    I feel that to come up with the ideal requires looking at the big picture. To improve the world and establish Zion we need to speak and think about our goals, desires, values, which will help inform us of new ways to be inventive and really create the model society that is best for us. The goal for sustainable building is just that — a building that is sustaining — restorative and regenerating. Having said that, a skyscraper farm is a great idea. It may not be ideal for the City of Zion, but once the ‘ideal’ density is established (the optimal amount of space to live for a person), then being inventive with the alloted space becomes an exercise in creation and creativity.

    In addition to a stackable farm building, gardening on the exterior facade is also an option. Patrick Blanc has done some beautiful work with this. (http://www.verticalgardenpatrickblanc.com) And here is a student design of a vertical garden for a home that would work nicely in the suburbs. (http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/05/student-designs-vertical-garden-rainwater-harvesting.php) These solutions save land AND save water. People who say the earth can only take so much, or to stop having kids because there are too many people, just suffer from a lack of creativity and vision, in my opinion. People are not the problem – people are the solution. The earth has enough and to spare. We just have to be creative and figure out new ways to live.

  6. Bookslinger on May 19, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    Anyone who has looked out the plane window while flying cross-country should know that we have hundreds of millions of acres of land that is neither occupied, forested, or farmed, and which could be turned into crop-producing land.

    Even barren land that has no topsoil can be turned into farmland with very little effort in 30 to 40 years, and when an effort is made, less than 20 years. This is because topsoil can be created. Nature does this by itself over time, but can be speeded up with some help. Think of the “dirt” that is created when you let fall leaves accumulate over concrete for a few years.

    I saw a real strip mine (surface coal mine) turn from a moonscape-like wasteland into a forest almost all by itself. It was planted only with some nettle-like shrubs and trees, back in the 1950′s, before strip-mine regulations of the 1960′s and 1970′s required true “reclamation.” That’s all it took to get the natural reclamation started. By the 1980′s you could not tell it was a strip mine. By contrast, the land next to it was strip-mined in the 1980′s, and reclaimed according to regulations/laws. So I saw what nature could do, and it was pretty much what man could do, only it just took a little longer. But in the big picture, 30 to 40 years isn’t much time anyway.

    The point is that we could create new arable farmland in 10 to 20 years on top of much of “fly-over country” where you don’t see anything currently growing. Manure and compost (non-edible plant parts like husks, corn cobs, wheat chaff, stalks, etc) combined with sub-soil (or non “topsoil” type dirt) basically makes a topsoil in a few years.

    Instead of engineering $200 million dollar farm buildings, perhaps a better investment would be irrigation systems that could feed off of rain-swollen rivers, transfering the water to areas that didn’t get enough rain, maybe even helping the Might Mississippi to not overflow its banks and flood the areas around it.

  7. Josh on May 19, 2008 at 11:10 pm

    The evolution of civilization.

  8. Velikiye Kniaz on May 21, 2008 at 12:45 am

    RE: #6
    Bookslinger,
    The principal problem is water…actually the lack thereof. Here in the Intermountain West the pioneers made the desert ‘blossom as a rose’ through careful irrigation. Now that “Zion” has been discovered by the world the best agricultural land in the state is being torn up and paved over with endless subdivisions, this leaves the far less arable alkaline and saline soil as the only land left to farm or ranch. With all these new homes come a lot of people who demand that the remaining agricultural and ranching interests surrender their water. It doesn’t take a math major to figure out that you can’t grow enough food for a family of three (much less four, five, six etc.) on a quarter to a third of an acre building lot. Our ‘developers’, in pursuit of their personal god, the not so mighty dollar, are laying the groundwork for future famines as the west continues to get drier and hotter via global warming. As more and more wells are drilled to tap the western aquifers the faster the water table, (which to millenia to build up to it’s peak level), is irrevocably drained and the threat of an eventual persistent drought looms ever larger. We can only hope that perhaps Isaiah’s prophesies of fountains and streams bursting forth in the desert and wilderness was meant for the Rocky Mountain Latter-day Saints.

  9. Bookslinger on May 21, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    Velikiye, you pointed out important things. However, I would hope, that if a group is going to spend a certain amount of dollars on the infrastructure of vertical farms in an urban setting, then the same dollar amount might be able to be spent to pump water from long distances that would otherwise flow as excess down the Snake, Missouri, Missippi, Ohio, and other major rivers; and thereby turn that alkaline soil into productive cropland.

    America puts a lot of compostable material into landfills that could be trucked to such wastelands to serve as compost, and if water is piped in, it would take only a few years to turn it into good soil.

    I just saw a “Modern Marvels” episode on the History Channel on how Japan pumps water out of rain-swollen rivers into reservoirs to avoid flooding. We regularly have floods along the Mississippi, and cities along that river are almost constantly raising their levees, thereby sending more water downstream instead of letting it flood, thereby exacerbating the problem for the cities downstream.

    If we could pump that floodwater before it overflowed the banks of the river, and pump it to areas that needed water, or to reservoirs somewhere in between the river and the destinations, such a system would have a dual purpose: flood prevention, and irrigation. If enough reservoir capacity could be created, the flood waters from spring rains and spring melt-offs might last the whole growing season.

    Plus, agricultural run-off already makes the waters of the Mississippi rich in nitrogen based fertilizers, so it might help reduce the “bloom” in the Gulf at the mouth of the river.

    As I see it, there is a lot of excess flood water that “goes to waste” when it overlows the banks of the Mississippi, and there is even an excess that flows out the mouth of the river into the gulf when the river’s water level is higher than it needs to be but hasn’t reached “flood stage”. In other words, there is a “normal range”, and I think it would be okay to “tap into” the Miss river for water as long as you kept the water lever above the minimum end of the normal range.

    Another possibility is for all those new urban and sub-urban areas to send treated-and-cleaned water from their sewage treatment plants to the agricultural system.

    Another point is that I wasn’t even thinking of the alkaline wildernesses of the Intermountain west, although that could be workable. There is still a lot of unfarmed or reclaimable land within 700 miles either side of the Mississippi, in which a water pumping system that I’m describing might generate a cost/benefit ratio better than a “vertical urban farm”.

    And there are plenty of smaller rivers around the country that regularly flood, and/or have a sufficient fluctuation of water levels between the high and low ends of their “normal range”, that could be tapped for shorter distance water-pumping when water levels exceed the lower level of their normal range.

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