Support The World's Smartest Network

Help the New York Academy of Sciences bring late-breaking scientific information about the COVID-19 pandemic to global audiences. Please make a tax-deductible gift today.

This site uses cookies.
Learn more.


This website uses cookies. Some of the cookies we use are essential for parts of the website to operate while others offer you a better browsing experience. You give us your permission to use cookies, by continuing to use our website after you have received the cookie notification. To find out more about cookies on this website and how to change your cookie settings, see our Privacy policy and Terms of Use.

We encourage you to learn more about cookies on our site in our Privacy policy and Terms of Use.


Shortening the Food Chain: Farming in the City

Shortening the Food Chain
Reported by
Christine Van Lenten

Posted September 11, 2009

Presented By

Green Science & Environmental Policy Discussion Group and the Environmental Sciences Section


Worldwide, population growth is increasing the demand for food at the same time that climate change is altering agricultural patterns and suppressing some crop yields. Large-scale commercial agriculture uses chemicals intensively and has ruinous environmental impacts. Long-distance food transport boosts our carbon footprint. And food safety problems related to commercial agriculture are a growing concern.

As more people move from rural to urban areas, cities have an ever-greater stake in securing adequate food supplies and in mitigating climate change. Together, all these factors point to a provocative question: Should food be grown on a commercial scale, using sustainable practices, in cities?

On May 27, 2009, three speakers explained the advantages of shifting agricultural practices toward more sustainable, city-based models, and described projects that could serve as models for more widespread strategies. Among projects discussed: a bioregion approach to mitigating climate change that would link NYC consumers and Hudson Valley farmers; sustainable vertical farming, in and on high-rise building; and “building integrated agriculture” that delivers substantial environmental, social, and commercial benefits.

Use the tabs above to find a meeting report and multimedia from this event.

Web Sites

Bright Farms Systems
BrightFarm Systems is a specialist greenhouse design consultancy, focused exclusively on the design of hydroponic rooftop farms.

C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group
A group of the world's largest cities, C40 is tackling climate change. It partners with the Clinton Climate Change Initiative to reduce carbon emissions and increase energy efficiency.

Cornell Cooperative Extension – New York City
If you're growing crops in your backyard in an urban or suburban setting in New York, be sure to ask Cornell to test your soil for lead and other heavy metals.

Earth Policy Institute
This indispensable nonprofit generates a wealth of information about 12 Eco-Economy Indicators, including grain harvest, water, carbon emissions, and population. Subscribe to its free Eco-Economy Updates.

New York City Panel on Climate Change
Modeled after the Nobel-Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this panel works in support of the NYC Climate Change Adaptation Task Force established by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Cynthia Rosenzweig is chief research scientist and co-chair. See the news release reporting release of the panel’s report, Climate Risk Information.

New York Sun Works
Founded by Ted Caplow in 2004, this nonprofit promotes sustainability by building and testing integrated, ecologically responsible systems for the production of energy, clean water, and food, with a focus on the built environment. The Science Barge is a spin-off.

Urban Climate Change Research Network
This consortium analyzes climate change mitigation and adaptation and energy issues from an urban perspective. It is designed to advance research and promote knowledge-sharing among researchers, urban decision makers, and stakeholders.

U.S. Global Change Research Program
This federal interagency program integrates research on climate and global change. 0n June 16, 2009 it published a comprehensive, plain-English assessment of current and potential impacts of climate change on in different U.S. regions and on aspects of society and the economy such as energy, water, agriculture, and health.

Vertical Farm Project
Dickson Despommier created this web site to share information about vertical farming. It includes links to media stories on the subject.

Vertical Gardens
An exhibition staged at New York City art gallery Exit Art in March-June 2009. Dickson Despommier was a speaker at one of the public events.


Agence France Presse. 2009. Cities leaders seek bigger say in UN climate change summit. Yahoo-Green (May 21).

Brown LR. 2009. Could food shortages bring down civilization? Scientific American (May).

Caplow T, Nelkin J. 2007. Building-integrated greenhouse systems for low energy cooling. 2nd PALENC Conference and 28th AIVC Conference on Building Low Energy Cooling and Advanced Ventilation Technologies in the 21st Century PALENC 2007. (PDF, 336 KB)

Collins G. 2009. Customers prove there's a market for fresh produce. The New York Times (June 11).

Despommier D. 2009. A farm on every floor. The New York Times (August 23).

Manhattan Borough President. 2009. Food in the Public Interest.

Linsley B, Caplow T. 2008. The greenhouse effect. Sustain 9: 26-28. (PDF, 624 KB)

Nelkin J, Caplow T. 2007. Sustainable controlled environment agriculture for urban areas. In De Pascale S, Scarascia Mugnozza G, eds. International Symposium on High Technology for Greenhouse System Management: Greensys2007. ISHS Acta Horticulturae 801.

Schwartz A. 2009. Gotham Greens building first hydroponic rooftop farm in NYC. Fast Company (June 16).

Vogel G. 2008. Upending the traditional farm. Science 319: 752-753. (PDF, 265 KB)

The Economist. 2009. Whatever happened to the world food crisis? It crept back. (July 2.)

World Bank. 2008. Climate Resilient Cities. "A practical guide to climate-proof our cities."


Cynthia E. Rosenzweig, PhD

NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
e-mail | web site | publications

Cynthia Rosenzweig is a senior research scientist at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, where she leads the Climate Impacts Group; it investigates the interactions of climate variability and change on systems and sectors important to human well being. She co-led the Metropolitan East Coast Regional Assessment of the U.S. National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change, sponsored by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, and was lead scientist on the NYC Department of Environmental Protection Climate Change Task Force. She now co-chairs the New York City Panel on Climate Change.

For the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rosenzweig was a coordinating lead author on the Assessment of Observed Changes and Responses in Natural and Managed Systems in the Fourth Assessment Report.

Recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Rosenzweig earned a PhD in plant, soil, and environmental sciences from the University of Massachusetts and an MS in soils and crops from Rutgers University. She has published extensively, authoring or coauthoring over 80 peer-reviewed scientific articles and authoring or editing eight books.

Dickson Donald Despommier, PhD

Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
e-mail | web site

At Columbia University, Dickson Despommier is a professor of environmental health sciences in the Mailman School of Public Health and professor of microbiology in the College of Physicians and Surgeons. Trained as a microbiologist, Despommier has always been interested in the environment. His current focus is promoting the concept of vertical farming, so planners and developers around the world will incorporate it into their visions for the future city.

As an infectious disease ecologist with a strong interest in West Nile Virus epidemics in the United States, Despommier studies weather patterns to construct ecologically based models that describe the conditions under which an epidemic might be triggered. He tracks other infectious diseases to determine ecological conditions that favor their transmission.

Despommier is a member of the NYC Department of Health's Food Safety Committee. He earned a MS in medical parasitology from Columbia University and a PhD in biology from the University of Notre Dame. He pursued research into cell biology at Rockefeller University. He has received several teaching awards.

Ted Caplow, PhD

BrightFarm Systems, LLC
e-mail | web site

Ted Caplow is senior partner for technical design at BrightFarm Systems, a consultancy that designs hydroponic rooftop farms for commercial, public, and nonprofit clients in the United States and abroad. By training a mechanical and environmental engineer, Caplow has expertise in integrated system design, renewable energy, water contaminant dynamics, and technology assessment. After founding New York Sun Works in 2004, he developed the master plan for the Science Barge, a floating, sustainable urban farm. Its success led to the founding of BrightFarm Systems and Gotham Green.

Formerly a clean energy consultant for Capital-E, LLC, Caplow worked on energy efficiency and carbon-offset credits. Clients included the California Energy Commission and the U.S. Department of Energy. He has lectured on energy-efficient building design at Columbia University. He was a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow, Columbia University Presidential Fellow, and Princeton University Guggenheim Fellow. He has published numerous scholarly articles. His sustainability work has been featured in many publications.

Caplow earned a MS from Princeton University in mechanical and aerospace engineering and a PhD from Columbia University in environmental engineering.

Christine Van Lenten

Christine Van Lenten has written about public policy issues and technical and scientific subjects for federal and state agencies, nonprofit organizations, and private sector firms.