Vertical Farming

by Kathryn Flehmer

For many people in the Midwest, the word “farm” brings to mind acres of corn, fields of wheat, and barns that house cows and chickens in the sprawling countryside. However, how much longer can this image remain true? Throughout the world, over 80% of the land suitable for farming is in use. The human population is set to increase by an estimated three billion by the year 2050. This means about 109 hectares of new land will be needed to grow enough food, if the traditional farming practices continue. With these estimates, is it possible that this system of farming can persist? Some people don’t think so. Dickson Despommier, a 67-year old microbiologist at Columbia University, believes that the only way we can subsist is by drastically changing the way we farm. Instead of sprawling farms, Despommier envisions 30-story high sky scrapers that could provide enough food and water for 50,000 people a year.

Called vertical farms, these structures would be home to various kinds of fruits, vegetables, and small animals. Despommier told Popular Science magazine that the idea of the vertical farm was the brainchild of Despommier and his students. Students were assigned a project on urban sustainability. They first proposed the production for 13 acres of farmable land on commercial rooftops of Manhattan. They figured, however, that this would feed just 2 percent of the city. Despommier then suggested that they take the 1,723 abandoned buildings in Manhattan and retrofit them to house hydroponics. Hydroponics is the practice of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions instead of soil.

According to Despommier’s website,, 60% of the human population now lives in city buildings. As we are all protected against the elements, Despommier writes, why not extend that coverage to our food-bearing plants as well?

He thinks irrigation plants in these buildings can produce not only enough food, but water for 50,000 people as well, through evapotranspiration. Condensation would come from the leaves of plants, Despommier said. Irrigation would come from the sewage (which would first be de-sludged). Then it is filtered through non-edible barrier plants, and then again through zebra mussels, one of nature’s best filterers. Despommier says that more than 100 strawberries, blueberries, and even miniature banana plants will inhabit these buildings.

Based on a compilation of extensive research, the vertical farm website lists many advantages of vertical farming, including:

  • Year-round crop production
  • No weather-related crop failure
  • Organic food with no herbicide, pesticides, or fertilizers
  • Eliminates agricultural runoff by recycling black water
  • Returns farmland to nature, restoring ecosystem functions and services reported that the construction of a 21-story vertical farm would cost about $84 million to build, $5 million in operating costs each year, and revenue $18 million a year.

The Lay-Out
A 30-story tower, set in the middle of the city, is a bit hard to imagine. So let’s take a verbal tour of this futuristic farm. The building itself will be circular, using space more efficiently and allowing maximum light into the center. Floors are stacked like “poker chips” for flexibility.

Most of the vertical farm’s energy will be supplied by a pellet system. However, there will also be a rotating solar panel that will follow the sun throughout the day, which ensures the most efficient use of solar energy.

In conjunction with the solar panel, there will be a wind spire. This wind spire uses small blades to turn air upwards, instead of conventional windmills, which are too big for cities. The building is coated with titanium oxide-glass panels that collect pollutants and let rain slide down the glass instead of beading; this allows for better light filtration and pollutant cleansing.

The entire vertical farm is regulated from the control room, which allows for year-round, 24-hour agriculture. The crops in the farm could include fruits, vegetables, grains, fish, poultry, and pigs.

How Does It All Work?
According to New York Magazine, the vertical farm also generates its own power from waste and cleans sewage water. Inside the ceiling of each floor, pipes collect moisture through an evapotranspiration recovery system. The pipes work much like a bottle of Coke that sweats on a hot day. Super-cool fluid inside pipes attracts plant water vapors. The moisture, which comes from plants, can then be bottled and sold. Despommier estimates that one vertical farm could recover 60 million gallons of water a year through this method.

Wastewater from the city’s sewage system is treated through filters and is sterilized, resulting in gray water. This water is not drinkable, but can be used for irrigation.

Working on the “Field”
A crop picker monitors fruits and vegetables with an electronic eye, checking for ripeness, temperature, etc. Because maximization of space is a priority, there are two layers of crops on each floor. If small crops are planted, there could be up to ten layers per floor, as well as crops that could hang from the ceiling. Runoff from irrigation is collected at the Pool and is piped into a filtration system. A Feeder directs programmed amounts of water and light to individual crops.

Pellet Power System
The pellet power system is another source of power for the vertical farms. It turns non-edible plant matter (e.g. corn husks) into fuel. It could also process waste from restaurant kitchens. Plant waste is processed into a powder, condensed into clean-burning fuel pellets and becomes steam power.

While it may take a few years for this idea to literally get off the ground, the concept of vertical-farms has caught the attention of many. Vertical-farms use current technologies and all that is needed for this plan to continue, Despommier said, is money.

(Description information courtesy of New York Magazine.)

Green Laundry

by Jen Quinlan

Maybe you don’t get all the chemistry behind why phosphates are bad or what effects doing your laundry can have on the environment. That’s OK! You don’t need to be a chemist to know that every aspect of our lives could probably be a little more ecologically responsible. Thanks to Green Planet’s top experts, we have a few easy-to-follow tips to help you green your laundry room.

Consider multiple wears. One of the simplest ways to cut back on the impact of your laundry is to just plain do less of it. Of course, this doesn’t go for everything, but research by the U.N. Environment Programme found that “you can consume up to five times less energy by wearing your jeans at least three times, washing them in cold water, and skipping the dryer or the iron” (

Choose your detergent wisely. There’s plenty to complain about in traditional laundry products. Phosphates, for one, can cause algal blooms that negatively effect ecosystems and marine life. Look for products that are readily biodegradable, made from plant and vegetable products, are free of phosphates, and don’t have petroleum-based ingredients. Healthier for the planet, and in many cases, much gentler on your skin too. Fabric softener can be replaced with a cup of white vinegar added during the rinse cycle. It naturally balances the pH of soap, so you get soft clothes with no chemical residue.

Concentrate, concentrate, concentrate. Those smaller packages filled with concentrated laundry detergent have a smaller carbon footprint (more useful product gets shipped using less fuel and space) and deliver more bang for the buck.

DIY detergent ain’t so bad. With just a handful of ingredients available at most grocery stores, you can create the greenest laundry detergent you can get your hands on. You’ll know exactly what’s in (or out of) it, and you can personalize the fragrance. There are lots of recipes for liquid and powder detergents online; check it out. You might be surprised how easy they are to make.

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Get Energy Star appliances. Maybe investing in a front-load washer isn’t in the budget right now, but when the top-loader is ready to be replaced, consider a top loader with the Energy Star logo; they typically use 18 to 25 gallons per load, compared to 40 gallons for older machines. Another tip: wash in cold water. Not heating the water saves 90% of the energy used for washing and over $100 a year. Also, only run full loads; same goes for the dryer.

Use the line. With over 88 million dryers in the U.S., we’re looking at over a ton of CO2 emissions annually. Harvest free solar energy and avoid the dryer altogether, if you can. Skipping the dryer will also extend the life of your clothes!

Dry wisely. A few things can help improve your drying efficiency if you use the dryer. Clean the lint filter to improve efficiency. Use the moisture sensor if you have one; the machine will shut down once it senses clothes are dry instead of continuing the cycle. Skipping dryer sheets can preserve the life of your fabrics as well as prevent exposure to nasty neurotoxins like toluene and styrene. Try a sachet of dried organic lavender in the dryer for a fresh scent instead of sheets. More great ideas at

Avoid the iron. It zaps energy, deteriorates fabric, and takes up valuable time. Instead, hang clothes up right after the wash cycle; the remaining water in them will work with gravity to pull out most of the wrinkles. Fold dry clothes where you want creases to be, and place them under other clothes in your dresser, which will further help to press them.

Don’t dis’ the laundromat. Commercial washers and dryers are generally more efficient than the domestic versions – bring a good book or enjoy visiting with locals while the wash goes. If you use a drop off service, request green detergents. Get a load of this: a Laundromat in Chicago is even using solar power for their hot H2O; there are some out there embracing alternative energy. If you find one in the area, let us know!

Skip the dry cleaner. Usual dry cleaning is as un-green as it gets, notably due to the health dangers associated with the use of perchloroethylene. We’re talking bladder, esophageal, and cervical cancer; eye, nose, throat and skin irritation; and reduced fertility as potential effects from perc exposure. Try buying clothes that don’t require dry cleaning, and recognize that many delicates can be safely hand washed instead. For items that must be professionally treated, reducing your exposure is a good goal. Greener dry cleaners are coming, like those who use carbon dioxide instead of perc. The EPA has a list of CO2 cleaners that are also on the horizon. Some businesses now use liquid carbon dioxide instead of perc (our nearest CO2 cleaners are in the Twin Cities area, unfortunately:

A Few Top Green Laundry Products

…you can find almost anywhere!

Seventh Generation

This Burlington, Vermont-based company is considered a leader in cultural change in consumer behavior and business ethics. One of the country’s first self-declared “socially responsible” companies, Seventh Generation states that each purchase of their products makes a difference by saving natural resources, reducing pollution, keeping toxic chemicals out of the environment, and making the world a safer place for this and the next seven generations.

Laundry Products: Natural 2X Concentrated Laundry Liquid, Natural Fabric Softener Sheets, Chlorine-free bleach & specially formulated baby laundry liquid

Find it at: Mother Nature Foods, Eau Claire; Target, Eau Claire; Econo Foods, Barron; Island City Co-op, Cumberland; People’s Food Co-op, LaCrosse

Mrs. Meyers (Local Pick!)

Based in Minneapolis, MN, Mrs. Meyers products are named after Thelma Meyers, the mother of the developer of Mrs. Meyers products. Their philosophy: to make straightforward, honest cleaners that smell good and work like the dickens on dirt. Products are aroma therapeutic, based on flowers and scents in Thelma’s garden. Products are biodegradable and cruelty-free, made of naturally derived ingredients whenever possible from corn, sugar cane, coconut, and palm.

Laundry Products: Laundry Detergent, Fabric Softener, Dryer Sheets infused with aroma therapy scents including basil, lavender, lemon verbena, geranium, baby blossom, and scent-free

Find it at: Festival Foods, Eau Claire; Just Local Food, Eau Claire; Little Bare Bottoms, Eau Claire; Menomonie Market Co-op, Menomonie


Ecover is an international company active in the production of ecological cleaners. Founded in 1980 in Belgium, they marketed a phosphate-free washing powder even before phosphates were branded as a problem. They are now known as the world’s largest producer of ecological cleaning products. Headquarters remain in Belgium, but they now have sites in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Switzerland, and their products are marketed in more than 26 countries.

Laundry Products: Non-chlorine bleach powder & liquid, fabric softener Sunny Day, delicate wash, stain remover, laundry wash & powder

Find it at: Menomonie Market, Menomonie; Festival Foods, Eau Claire; Econo Foods, Barron; South Suburban Buying Club, Eau Claire; Main Street Market, Rice Lake; Island City Co-op, Cumberland; Indigo Iris, Amery; Going Green, Amery; Natural Alternative, Luck

Growing a Community

by Andrew Werthmann

For years scientists and experts have warned about climate change, our dependence on foreign oil, and the damaging effects of conventional food production. “Going Green” is a term used by many to encompass a divergence from these tendencies, but it’s practicality is far from clear.

A newly formed Eau Claire group is helping to make the Green concept a reality. The Eau Claire Community Garden Association is bringing together citizens, private corporations, and public entities to not only provide a space for residents to garden in the city limits, but additionally, to teach, encourage, and provide support for those interested in growing their own food locally. The garden offers up to 40 rental plots, but also features a “Demonstration” plot which will serve to connect those with “food insecurity” to high quality local produce. This project, termed the Phoenix Garden Project, will offer classes taught by UW-Extension experts, provide free food to those who volunteer, encourage people to plant gardens in their own yards, and offer a percentage of the food grown to the Community Table and campus kitchens.

Central to the garden’s mission, is providing food to those of all economic means. A government report recently found that 49 million people in the US have difficulty accessing and/or purchasing healthy food. Catherine Emmanuelle, an Eau Claire resident living close to the garden stated, “As a parent and someone who is continuously looking to stretch my food budget while making healthy choices for my family, I believe a community garden for the Eau Claire area is exciting and we look forward to the possibilities of what we can grow together.”

“More and more now, people are realizing the importance of local food, whether it’s for health reasons, environmental responsibility, or just getting to know your neighbor a little better,” says Andrew Werthmann, coordinator for the Eau Claire Community Garden Association and current City Councilman, “there is something very powerful that takes place when you can plant a seed in the soil and know you are helping to create a more sustainable world.”

The first garden season will begin next spring, and applications are already available to the public. The City of Eau Claire’s Department of Recreation, Parks, and Forestry is providing logistical support for the project, which is located just north of Phoenix Park in the Forest Street Green Space. Veolia Environmental Services has donated compost, derived from food scraps it collects from the UWEC Cafeteria as well as Luther Midelfort Hospital’s cafeteria. A local chapter of Food Not Lawns is also actively involved—encouraging people to start similar gardens in their own lawns.

“This could not happen without massive collaboration,” said Erica Zerr, East Hill resident and local organizer for Food Not Lawns, “because our mission is to teach, build community, create food security, and encourage sustainable gardening, the project requires many hands.”

Joe Mauer, a local landscape architect, helped the group design and lay-out the gardens. All of the garden plots are aligned with old property lines, a testament to the houses that once occupied the area. “It’s important to realize that everything we do is connected to our heritage, to our past.” Joe said. “At one point, this area was farmed, then it was developed into housing, despite the fact that it is dangerously close to a river. As we revitalize downtown responsibly, we need to keep in mind the area’s limitations, but also its immense possibilities.”

With ties to the past, but an emphasis on creating stronger community and a more sustainable future, the Garden Association believes this effort will be a big success. “The Eau Claire City Council has even discussed the possibility of expanding community gardens into various neighborhoods around the city,” said Dennis Eikenberry, a founding member of the Garden Association and Committee member to the City of Eau Claire’s Waterways and Parks Commission. “The outpouring of support from so many people feels very good. I am certain this garden is the right thing for our community right now.”

To request an application for garden plot rental, please call 715-839-5039 or email To donate or volunteer in the Demonstration Garden, please call 715-495-2451.