Is Vertical Farming a Good Idea?

Chris Newman
6 min readOct 10, 2022

No. It’s largely, though not entirely, a terrible idea that claims to solve a land and water use problem by adopting an even bigger energy problem. Let’s explain…

Image via Forbes

There’s no shortage of futurecasting in sustainable agriculture, and few of these futures is endowed with more good PR and idle rich-guy money looking for a new home than vertical farming: the idea of taking farming indoors, planting in a soil-less medium multiple stories up into the sky, automating the planting and harvesting, and controlling inputs with incredible precision resulting in almost no waste.

It’s tempting to be excited by this technology, considering the knife’s edge that some of our most important vegetable and fruit producing regions are standing on. However, with vertical farming (and other tech-oriented “solutions” to feeding a growing planet), we find ourselves facing a blend of Dr. Ian Malcolm’s warning against hubris in the face of nature, and Thucydides’ characterization of hope as “danger’s comforter.” And in the case of vertical farming and all its discussion of land savings and water use, there’s one particular fellow who would like to have a word.

People in industrialized countries are bemoaning the loss of connection and community that’s been sparked by social media. We’re communicating more and more through interfaces instead of directly, our interactions in the digital space are superficial at best (toxic at worst), and we’re beginning to see others as NPC in the ever-narrowing course of our lives instead of seeing them in the full color of their humanity.

However, this disconnection with the non-human world, with so-called “nature,” happened a long time ago. As a consequence, we see something like the Sun as little more than a celestial orb that creates daylight, warms the air, and maybe fuels solar panels, and it becomes easy to forget just how much of a free lunch we’re getting from that gigantic fusion reactor in the sky.

Replacing the California Central Valley

Let me clarify something: I’m not entirely hostile to indoor/vertical growing. With the proper

Chris Newman

Building a new, accessible, open, and democratic food economy in the Chesapeake Bay region @ Sylvanaqua Farms