In recent posts I have been writing a good deal about the intersection of farming and urban landscapes. However, nothing I had imagined up to this point prepared me for the news that surfaced earlier this month that Las Vegas was planning to build an agricultural high-rise. Billed as a groundbreaking new era in urban sustainability, the thirty-story “vertical farm” is estimated to cost $200 million, and will supposedly feed more than 70,000 people a year. One has to ask, is this a bold experiment in local food or simply a new version of industrial agriculture?
One thing is clear, the plan for the vertical farm is not intended to meet the needs of local people in Las Vegas. This is no community supported super-farm. It is however, another kind of CSA: casino supported agriculture. The primary funders of the veggie-tower are Las Vegas casinos who have already laid claim to the majority of the produce which would be grown there.
The article, posted over at Slashfood, reports that the “farm could potentially make up to $25 million a year, plus $15 million in potential tourist revenue.” This would easily cover the $6 million a year operating costs and make it one of the most costly and most successful farms in the nation. Is this the future? Should local farmers across the country start prospecting for real-estate in the nations urban hot spots? Or is this just another example of Las Vegas style opulence and over consumption?
The original article waxed poetic about the potential of this model to spread and the vision of these high rise farms to feed the worlds increasingly urban population with local, organic food. It’s an attractive notion, but with the dramatic start up costs and the ecological challenges of planting, watering, and harvesting in a building I imagine that these vertical vegetable gardens are destined to be more a spectacle than a solution.