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Old October 21st, 2008, 05:50 AM   #1
Yellow Fever
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High-rise Greenhouses in Metro Vancouver

Metro Vancouver eyes high-rise greenhouses

Vertical farms and 'urban agriculture' may be the way of the future

Kelly Sinoski, Vancouver Sun
Published: Monday, October 20, 2008

METRO VANCOUVER - Rooftop gardens and vertical greenhouses could be a sign of the times in Metro Vancouver as the region wrestles with ways to tackle a global food crisis and the effects of climate change.

And Surrey could lead the trend, with at least one developer considering building a so-called vertical farm in Whalley, which is slated to become the region's second downtown.

Vertical farms could potentially be as high as 30 storeys, with glass walls, solar panels and an irrigation system to grow beds of produce inside.

High-rise gardens of the future.

"We're trying to look at the future and the future is going to be some form of urban agriculture," Surrey Coun. Marvin Hunt said. "I'd like to see it right in the city centre."

Urban gardens - including community allotments - are being considered by Metro as it aims to boost its actively farmed land to feed an urban population expected to reach 3.4 million in the next 30 years.

The heightened push for locally grown food comes in the wake of the melamine scandal involving Chinese products and the tainted Maple Leaf Foods scare, coupled with the threat of climate change.

"We should not be encouraging people to bring food in from Asia or Mexico or California because of the energy aspect, the pollution from the ships and trucks," said Richmond Coun. Harold Steves, who sits on Metro's agricultural committee.

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said Monday "a couple of developers were quite excited" about the prospect of a vertical farm, which could potentially grow vegetables, fruit, chickens and fish under one roof all year long.

One of the options being looked at in Whalley, she said, is to have an organic garden incorporated into a restaurant, which would use the local food in its dishes.

Watts wouldn't name the potential developer, saying the city is in the midst of analysing the project. But if everything continues to move forward, she said, a vertical farm could be built in the next few years.

Vertical farms are the brainchild of Columbia University professor Dickson Despommier, who recently pushed the idea to Surrey.

"I can almost guarantee that within two years you'll be able to see one," he said. "We're in an exciting time ... the third green revolution."

Under the concept, greenhouses could take up all the space or a portion of a commercial or residential building, school, hospital, restaurant or residential care home. Despommier said small livestock could also live in a vertical farm and there would no pollution and shipping costs.

In Richmond, two projects have been approved to incorporate urban gardens on rooftops and parking garages, Steves said. The city is also working with Kwantlen Polytechnic to build a community allotment gardens south of the Steveston Highway.

But Steves insists that urban gardens should not be seen as a substitute to saving the farmland that's left in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

"To use vertical or rooftop gardens to take more land out of agriculture is dead wrong," he said.

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson said vertical farms would be a "good experiment," but she'd prefer to see municipalities buy farmland and lease it to the farmers instead. "If we believe we're going to try and feed ourselves we have to look at doing that."

Kent Mullinix, of the Institute for Sustainable Agriculture at Kwantlen Polytechnic, agreed there should be more urban gardens, but said he doesn't believe vertical farms are ecologically or environmentally sustainable.

There are no known estimates of the cost of a vertical farm, but Steves said it would likely be twice the price of keeping farmland intact.

Hunt agreed "you certainly have to have a few dollars and a few sites to do [vertical farming]," but said Surrey is a growing community that could incorporate green walls or roofs into its buildings. "Why not have these green plants being broccoli or cabbage and everything else under the sun?" he said.

Although Surrey has about a third of its land in the ALR, Hunt said other communities have no farmland left. "Many communities going into 'food security' have no agricultural land at all ... there isn't a lot of land within 100 miles," Hunt said.

Steves said it's a never-ending battle to preserve agricultural land as municipalities struggle with the need for land to grow food versus the pressures of using land for industry or housing.

"Every decade, every council that comes along has taken 100 or 130 acres out [of the ALR]. When you keep doing that pretty soon you won't have anything left," he said.

In 1973, when the ALR came into effect, about 86 per cent of the vegetables needed to feed Metro Vancouver residents were grown locally, Steves said. Today, that has dwindled to 43 per cent.

Steves estimates that to feed the region, Metro will need another 90,000 hectares of farmland- the equivalent of every golf course, horse farm and nursery in the region.

Metro Vancouver, which has spent more than two years looking at food security, plans to establish a food council next year. "The changes that need to be made are so dramatic, we just don't know all the answers or how we're going to do that," Steves said.

He said Metro is losing farmland to municipalities that are taking it out of the ALR for growth.

Pitt Meadows has asked that land be exempt from Metro's designated green zone to be used for industrial uses it expects to arise from development around the Golden Ears and Pitt River bridges, while Maple Ridge has appealed to get the Jackson Farm - cited as just grasslands - out of the ALR.

"All of these communities are no longer looking at protecting the ALR; effectively what they're doing is banding together to remove more farmland when it's essential to keep it," Steves said. "We need a hard line on the ALR."

Compounding the problem is the number of absentee owners of farmland, who are seeking to get their property rezoned so they can sell it. Both Steves and Delta's Mayor Jackson say the province should increase taxes on those properties to encourage people to farm the land or sell it for farming uses.

Mullinix said Metro Vancouver should never have abandoned its previous regional food system, with its canneries and bottling plants.

"I don't think at this stage of the game we shouldn't have black pepper or coffee ... but we have to infuse some reality. Having strawberries from Chile isn't responsible."

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Old October 21st, 2008, 07:01 AM   #2
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wow...imagine that. 30 storey greenhouses between the GVRD, Abbotsford and Chilliwack.
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Old October 21st, 2008, 07:59 AM   #3
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I can see this getting raped by building and fire codes.

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Old October 21st, 2008, 10:34 AM   #4
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This is awesome! Metro Vancouver rocks!!!
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Old October 24th, 2008, 03:24 AM   #5
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This "Vertical Farm" news has been hackneyed "news" in numerous cities, including Las Vegas, Houston, NYC, etc.

eg :

Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 June 2007, 13:35 GMT 14:35 UK
Vertical farming in the big Apple
By Jeremy Cooke
BBC News, New York
Is this how farms will look in the future?

Downtown Manhattan is hardly a place you would associate with agriculture. Rather, with its countless restaurants, cafes, shops and supermarkets this is a place of consumption.

These "proposals" have sprouted everywhere. The trouble is, it is not economically viable at $4/bushell wheat prices that we have now and will not be for most agricultural items in the near future. The one in Texas was going to be made economically viable by charging tourists money for tours of the facility, like a museum.
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Old October 24th, 2008, 05:57 AM   #6
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There's also a proposal in Toronto, but judging from the aesthetics, it's also a non-starter.

on another note, they should keep the garden city lands away from developers until food is expensive enough to make these towers feasible.

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Old October 24th, 2008, 07:19 AM   #7
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Looks like a Chia Pet!

BTW, that looks like the location of the new Festival Tower (Bell Lightbox) project in TO where the Toronto International Film Festival will have its HQ.
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