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Welcome!! My name is Paul Lappen. I am in my early 50s, single, and live in Connecticut USA. This blog will consist of book reviews, written by me, on a wide variety of subjects. I specialize, as much as possible, in small press and self-published books, to give them whatever tiny bit of publicity help that I can. Other than that, I am willing to review nearly any genre, except poetry, romance, elementary-school children's books and (really bloody) horror.

I have another 800 reviews at my archive blog: http://www.deadtreesreviewarchive.blogspot.com (please visit).

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Vertical Farm

The Vertical Farm, Dr. Dickson Despommier, Thomas Dunne Books, 2009

The current method of human agriculture is in bad shape, and is ultimately unsustainable. This book provides an alternative.

Agriculture as we know it has worked for many thousands of years, but the system is breaking down. If there is such a thing as The Chronicle of Farm Life in the 20th Century, it is "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck. Three things that had a huge impact on agriculture were the internal combustion engine, and the discoveries of oil and dynamite. When irrigating fields, runoff is created that is full of chenicals and fertilizers applied to those fields. During floods, runoff gets even worse, because that chemical-filled water gets into the rivers, which empty into the ocean, creating aquatic "dead zones." In less developed countries, there is little or no attempt to filter or treat the water, and since fecal matter (human and animal) is frequently used as fertilizer, that just spreads lots of intestinal parasites. In many places, a 55-gallon drum of clean water is now more valuable than oil.

Greenhouse gases are turning the world's oceans more acidic; the time will come when calcium carbonate, a central component of coral and mollusk shells, cannot form. Various bugs and plant diseases can also do immense damage to a wide area of crops. As agriculture becomes more commercialized, and farm sizes grow, food safety becomes a huge concern. Corporations want to cut costs wherever they can (like food inspection), and consumers have made it clear that food safety is at the top of the list.

Imagine stacking several high-tech greenhouses on top of each other. Hydroponic gardening, which uses one-third the water of regular agriculture, is well known. Aeroponic gardening, where the roots are misted at the right times, uses one-third the water of hydroponics. The water can be treated and recycled so that it can be used over and over. No artificial chemicals would be needed. Such a vertical farm can be built in the city, vastly increasing the availability of fruits and vegetable for inner-city residents. The outer walls would be a type of clear, hard plastic, which is lighter than glass, to let in every available bit of sunlight. The corresponding amount of farmland would be allowed to turn back into whatever it was, usually hardwood forest, before it became farmland.

Of course, theory is easy, while turning the theory into reality is much harder. This a fascinating book, even though it is light on the reality of what a vertical farm would look like. If it does nothing more than get people thinking about other methods of agriculture, this is a gem of a book.  

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