[MUSIC PLAYING] All right, so I just
ate a bunch of bugs. Pretty good, huh? It’s not bad. We looked at meat made
from plant protein. But what about the
plants themselves? That’s what I was wondering. What’s their future like? Yeah, great minds think alike. [THEME MUSIC] DICKSON DESPOMMIER: OK, you
asked me to predict the future. So what we’re seeing now
is a climate change issue that’s severely affecting
agriculture outdoors. We’re seeing
urbanization like crazy, and we’re seeing an increase
in human populations. You put those three
things together, and you’ve got another–
I hate to use this cliche, because everybody’s
using it now– but it’s a perfect
storm for disaster. CRAIG BENZINE: This is Dickson
Despommier, emeritus professor at Columbia University. He helped develop and
popularize the concept of the vertical farm. What’s that? We’ll get to that. But before all that, he taught
a class in medical ecology. So here’s an idea that
arose in this class. The idea was the students
got tired of hearing about gloom and doom,
which I don’t blame them. And they said, we would like to
start thinking more positively. So they came back
and said, you know, we think rooftop
gardening in New York City might be a good idea. Let’s see if we can feed
some people this way and maybe turn some of
this heat bubble around and that sort of thing. So I– that’s a great idea. CRAIG BENZINE: The
students started looking at how much rooftop
space Manhattan had available for farming. Then they had to figure out what
to grow to feed all 2.3 million of its inhabitants. The most energetic crop
that you can possibly eat in one bite is rice. CRAIG BENZINE: Then
they calculated how much rice they could grow
on the rooftops of Manhattan. DICKSON DESPOMMIER: And with the
amount of land that they had, with a single crop
per year, they ended up being able to feed 2%. In their view, it was a failure. I said, you had a good idea. This was the right idea. It just didn’t go far enough. I said, why don’t we take the
idea of the rooftop garden and put it inside the building? And that was– everybody’s light
bulb went on, including mine. So we didn’t have a name for
it yet, but this was in 1999. By 2010, the idea was
known as the vertical farm. OK. I’m going to make
an educated guess and say that vertical
farms are just like regular farms,
except the crops are grown on candy-colored clouds. And all the farmers are
specially trained hot air balloon pilots. Because that’s
what I’m picturing, and I want it to be real so bad. Wow. I’m wrong, aren’t I? Way off. Well, what did
it look like then? Well– ROBERT COLANGELO: Hands inside. Were going up. OK. In a vertical
farm, you’ve always got to watch out for your head. Yeah. Whoa. I went over to Portage,
Indiana to check out Green Sense Farms– one
of the world’s largest commercial vertical farms–
to gain a higher perspective and to find out if
vertical farming really is the future of agriculture. What kind of lights are these? It looks like Christmas. ROBERT COLANGELO:
These are produced by Philips, the large electronic
company out of the Netherlands. They’re our partner. And if you look
underneath, you can see that that’s made up of a
series of red and blue diodes. What Philips has
found is that you don’t need the whole spectrum
of light to have photosynthesis. The plants photosynthesize best
with that red and blue light spectrum. And because of that, they
use a lot less energy. You’re not pumping
all that energy in to produce that whole spectrum. They burn cool, and
they’re very efficient. As you can see, under
these LED lights, our produce looks
brownish or discolored. But it isn’t. It’s really quite
vibrant and green. When you bring it out into
the ambient white light, you can see how fresh and green. Most people don’t
eat fresh lettuce because it comes from California
and takes three to five days to get to the store. This is our whole lettuce tower. And the way we plant this
is we plant it specifically to a custom order. So a customer will come
in, place an order, tell us when they want
these to be harvested. And then every week after
the first growth cycle, this crop comes ripe. So if you look up
in here, you’ll see plants at different
stages of development. CRAIG BENZINE:
What’s the advantage of using a vertical farm as
opposed to just a regular farm? Well the obvious is
a horizontal farm only gets one level. Here, you can see,
we can grow up. So we get much more
density per square foot than you do in a field farm. Second, we can
harvest daily here. We get about 26
harvests per tub, where a field farm will only get
you maybe one, two, or three. Also a field farm, you
could lose your whole crop if you have drought or you
have inclement weather. CRAIG BENZINE: Being in a
climate-controlled environment gives vertical
farms the advantage of being safe from
pests, eliminating the need for pesticides. And unlike traditional
farms, vertical farms can also be harvested year
round– even in cold climates. ROBERT COLANGELO:
You could always use that cold air to help in
your cooling of your room. The cold climates
keep the bugs out, and it also helps in your
savings of your energy costs. It’s sort of the opposite
of traditional farming. You want the cold. You want the winter, as
opposed to the summer. The cold’s our friend. When nobody else
is growing, that’s when we’re at peak capacity. We’re all about climate
control, creating that perfect
atmosphere and climate in this grow room–
365 days a year. This air rotation unit’s
a big part of that. The ambient air flows through
these filters, up these fans. And then it gets treated
with temperature and humidity controls so that it’s always
the perfect temperature and humidity here. CRAIG BENZINE: The
air is also sterilized with ultraviolet radiation
to remove harmful microbes and then enriched with a
little extra carbon dioxide to speed up the
plant growth process. It blows out the
top, and then it just circulates throughout the room. CRAIG BENZINE: Recirculating
and purifying the air is good for the plants, but
it’s also good for humans. According to the CDC, over
half of all foodborne illnesses come from plants. And more illnesses were
associated with leafy greens than any other commodity. Vertical farms could
potentially reduce the amount of foodborne
illnesses and save lives. Another advantage of vertical
farms is water consumption. Agriculture consumes around 70%
of the world’s water supply. 70. And then what happens
to it after you farm? It runs off. And can you drink that water? You better not. Ecology is a very
economical way of behaving. OK? If you look at the
way a hardwood forest recycles its nutrients. If you look at
the way it handles water, and micronutrients,
and minerals, and things of this sort– the economy is
remarkable when you review it. So wow, why don’t we do that? Because we don’t
know how to do that. Many of these
things don’t exist. We have to fabricate
them ourselves. We’ve designed these
systems to conserve water. Water is pumped in. And then it gravity drains,
and then it’s recirculated. And it’s calibrated
so it always has the right pH,
electric conductivity, and the right
percentage of nutrients. Most other farming
operations don’t do that. So just on the logic
of our process, this is much more economical. And it’s much more sustainable. You could pretty
much grow anything in a indoor vertical farm. But there’s only a few things
you can grow commercially and economically viably today. But you also have to
understand this farm is specially engineered. It’s like a Ferrari race car. It is designed
specifically to optimize the growth of leafy greens. If we go off into
another direction, we would have to
redesign our entire farm. So with time, we’ll be
able to grow more produce. But as of right now,
we’re focused on plants. I think the future
is plant protein. Because as the
population grows, you’re going to have to be able
to grow that protein. What have you discovered
that you didn’t know before, when you started doing this? Well, the best way for
us to solve world hunger is to make a profitable farm. And that’s what I’ve
learned a long time ago in the environmental business. People have many
great ideas, but it’s hard to turn it into reality. The world speaks in finance. Everybody understands
that language. So for us to make this
a profitable farm, we can really change the world. So that’s what is
really interesting to me. For this playlist we’re doing,
it’s about future of food. And we want to know, what
is the future of food? Is this the future–
vertical farms? I think it’s part
of the future. I think you’re starting to
find farming is stratifying, much like the automobile. 20 years ago, cars
just ran off gas. Now look. You have hydrogen. You
have plug-in electrics. You have hybrids, diesel,
high-mile-per-gallon gas. Field farms are great for
commodity crops like soybean, and corn, and wheat. Greenhouses are fantastic for
growing tomatoes, peppers, cumbers. And we think the
future for leafy greens is indoor vertical farms. I think people will
grow more sustainably. They’ll learn how
to conserve water. They’ll learn how to
use a lot less chemicals in growing their produce. And they’re going to
learn how to package it so it’s much fresher. The consumer is getting
much more educated on where their food comes from
and the importance of eating healthy. That is very fresh. That is really good. ROBERT COLANGELO: So the
future is really bright, and it’s going to
change very rapidly. At the end of the day, we
all live on the same Earth. We have to work together. It’s not us against them. It’s all of us working
together to try to figure out how to grow food
better, more nutritious with less impact
on the environment. CRAIG BENZINE: So what
do you guys think? Is vertical farming the
future of agriculture? Just a piece of it? Or a complete waste
of time and energy? Also if there are any
traditional horizontal farmers out there, we’re particularly
interested in your opinion on this vertical farming thing. Do you think it’s just a fad? Let us know in the comments. Next week we talk to urban
farming pioneer Ken Dunn. Turns out the future of food
might be a return to old ideas. See you next week. Bye. I didn’t know we
were going to wave. Last week, we asked if you
would consider including bugs as a regular part of your diet. Here’s what you had to say. Charlie Ringstrom
and a number of you wanted to know where
to buy insects. Well, chapulines, which
were in the delicious tacos that we ate, can be found
at Mexican grocery stores. And crickets, wax
worms and mealworms are often sold as
pet food or bait and can be found at pet stores. You can also raise
crickets yourself. The trick though for
maximum deliciousness is gut loading– also
my major in college. There’s helpful
links to all of this in the doobly doo of
our insects video. Dan Brown pointed
out that bugs will need to be more thoroughly
processed before people are willing to eat them
as more than a novelty. Fortunately, there’s already
a solution– cricket flour, which is available online and
possibly some grocery stores. Cricket flour is basically
milled-up, dry-roasted crickets which can be used in a
variety of foods like cookies or pancakes or whatever. It’s high in
protein, gluten free. And you can pretend it’s
not made of crickets. Yum. ssarryo and giovanifm1984
say they’ll just stick to getting their
protein from veggies, beans, and cereals– thank
you very much. No one’s telling you
you have to eat bugs. However, from an environmentally
sustainable perspective, bugs are a very efficient
source of protein– even better than a lot of plants. Crickets actually grow faster
and require a lot less land and water than soybeans. And nuts require a ton of water. And I’m allergic to
nuts– food for thought. waitingfor2008 asked how
common bug allergies are. Insects, including
mealworms and wax worms, are arthopods– just
like crabs and lobsters. So if you have an
allergy to shellfish, there’s a good chance you have
an allergy to bugs as well. So if you’re concerned about
having a negative reaction, you should consult a
doctor or do some research before chowing
down on some bugs. But if you don’t have
an allergy to shellfish, you’re probably OK. Lover of berniesanders writes
that when they were a kid, they saw an ant, and they
just ate it for some reason. And then later realized
that it tasted just like the red berries
in Special K cereal. You just gave me an idea. General Mills,
are you listening? Cricket Puffs–
it could help kids get over the cultural
aversion to bugs. And it could make
us a lot of money. Thanks for the great questions. Keep them coming. See you next week. [THEME MUSIC]