Vertical Farming on the Rise in NYC

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The future of farming may be closer to home than you think… literally. As the notion of urban farms become more of a reality, tomorrow’s kale salad could be sourced as locally as the roof of your 5-story walkup.

As the world’s population continues to grow faster and larger than ever before, agricultural sustainability has been the focus of many leaders in the science and technology communities. Kimbal Musk, co-founder of The Kitchen Community and brother of Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, has been a proponent of urban agriculture and locally sourced food. In his latest initiative, dubbed “Square Roots”, Musk and his team have created an academy for food entrepreneurs and are inviting thousands of millennials to participate in what he describes as the “real food revolution”. Musk’s urban farming accelerator, Square Roots, will train a select cohort of young people to grow non-GMO produce in vertical farms in center of American cities. The first Square Roots campus will open in Brooklyn later this fall.

According to Musk, Square Roots’ 3-D farms will have the capacity to yield the same produce as 2-acres of traditional farmland in just 320 square feet of urban space (2 acres are equivalent to 87,120 square feet). Additionally, advocates for urban farms argue that vertical farms use 70–90% less water than traditional farming methods, boast a 90% harvest yield rate when traditional farms average about 60%, and would significantly reduce energy expenditure on transportation as the produce would be grown locally. In Gowanus, Brooklyn, one of three NYC urban farms operated by Gotham Greens, produce is grown on the 2nd floor of the 2-story building and sold in the Whole Foods on the ground level (your average red tomato travels 1,800 miles to get to your plate).

The urban farming industry has seen an influx of private sector investment in recent years which has enabled the industry to sustain growth, but in 2016 represents only a small fraction of US agriculture. With an estimated 70% of the world’s population expected to live in cities by 2050, urban farms will be play a critical role sustainable food sourcing. Leaders like Musk will need to work closely with USDA and local governments to facilitate the private-public partnerships needed to keep the urban farming industry growing.


Musk, K. (2016, August 23). Why I’m empowering 1,000’s of millennials to become #realfood entrepreneurs through Vertical Farming. Retrieved October 1, 2016, from

Brown, C. (2016, September 8). Cleantech Collides with the Future of Food. Retrieved October 1, 2016, from