A farm in the city

July 29, 2013 admin

7-29 Vertical-Farm-ArtUrban farming’s time may have come. It’s an exciting though nascent movement that promises to ameliorate several pressing land use, climatic and nutritional issues.

There is even talk of skyscraper farming (see illustration).

With so many burned out and abandoned warehouses in American cities (did somebody say Detroit?) in need of renovation, retrofitting and utilization, space for urban farming is plentiful and relatively inexpensive at this stage. By localizing food production and reducing time-to-market, consumers get fresher, more nutritious food. It should also be less expensive because it doesn’t require long-distance shipping at great expense and high fuel prices from the Midwest or California’s central valley.

Drought and other forms of extreme weather caused by climate change and desertification would become non-factors, thanks to the controlled climate of warehouse farms. Temperature, lighting, soil quality and precipitation are all carefully monitored and protected from the elements. Plant life can be showered with light around the clock, much as indoor marijuana growers have long done — to speed along the plants rush to full maturity.

Pesticides — along with the costs they incur and health concerns they pose — could be eliminated by the hermetically sealed environment of urban farms.

This would allow cities to be largely responsible for their own food supplies. Nationally, the United States would have a highly distributed agriculture system resistant to pestilence and natural disasters.

Just as factory farms — as horrific and controversial as they are — created enormous efficiencies in meat production, urban farming could do the same for plant life.

Unfortunately, institutional investors don’t have a pitchfork in this fight, even though they have been exhibiting an increased appetite for agricultural investments. The urban farming business is still far too small to warrant the time, attention and capital from pension funds and other institutional investors.

Maybe some day this will change. The seeds are being planted.

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MikeCfinalwebMike Consol is editor of The Institutional Real Estate Letter – Americas.

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