Vertical Farms Realized: Growing Power Launches 5 Story Expansion

Renderings from Kubala Washatko Architects Inc
Vertical farms have been theorized about for years in media and by entrepreneurs but until now, nothing big has gotten off the drawing board. Will Allen’s legendary Growing Power looks like it will be the first to test the concept in reality with a proposed 5 story expansion to his Milwaukee headquarters that was put up for approval by the city planing commission last week.

The 35,000 square foot building would be oriented toward the south with a greenhouse like structure capturing light and heat, even in the dead of winter. The building would circulate air and water to provide nutrients for a variety of plants as well as tanks of fish – an aquaponics system that Growing Power has been working on at a smaller scale for years. Additionally, classrooms, a demonstration kitchen and various meeting spaces would be provided. Produce from the structure would be sold on site.

More images after the jump…

Growing Power is a non profit and as such the new expansion has been made possible by a fund raising effort from various Sources. However, part of the group’s mission is to explore commercial applications for the systems and technologies developed, some of which have already borne fruit, so to speak.

We recently reported on SweetWater organics, a commercial aquaculture operation in a former factory on Milwaukee’s south side which is using Growing Power’s systemic methods to grow both lettuce and perch for local restaurants and consumers. That operation has yet to be proven financially viable but is less than a year old.

Additionally, many companies, such as Bonterra Vinyards have found ways to partner with Growing Power either for their own charitable purposes or as ways to boost their own employee morale and community involvement.

As TreeHugger’s Lloyd Alter points out, developments like these may not feed the world all by themselves, but the technology is fascinating, inspired and obviously making waves.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

5 responses

  1. Ive been reading and hearing about this project, even as recently as today. Everyone insinuates its either being built or has been built, but no one actually says its done and working.
    This morning on MSNBC Dr. Dickson Despommier said that Will Allen has built a low tech 5 story version of vertical farming and he is a great example of what can be done. But this future design is the only information I can find about Will Allen’s 5 story farm. I have found it in many different websites and blogs, but nothing about an actual 5 story farm by him of any type in action today.
    My question is, is this real, or is this what they hope to build if they can obtain the 7 to 10 million dollar funding required?
    And one other thought, have they considered used materials? Maybe using many of the discarded shipping containers and others scrap materials to lower the construction cost and make this actually happen?

  2. I’d be interested to see a set of diagrams that compares this to ‘standard’ horizontal farming in green houses.

    It would also be nice to see this compared to traditional farms in regards to land use, energy consumption, water usage and estimate profits.

    I can imagine it would take decades for the profits of vertical farming to compete with traditional farming’s profit margin and ‘green credentials’, especially if you consider the embedded energy required for the construction of buildings, and the fabrication of the building components, and the extraction of the resources to make the components all to grow a crop of tomato – which no one has even proven will be able to grow year in year out and still taste like it is tomato.

    And besides this, you have the energy bills to pay for attempting to grow crops. If a vertical farming is the single function of a building, the idea is nothing other than a pipe dream propagated by a bunch of cranks.

    I think we are all sick of seeing these stupid images that are really nothing other than deception, and an insult to a potentially good idea. We have been seeing these images for over a decade – let’s see some statistics – some facts!

    1. Having been to Growing Power this winter, I can tell you the heat in the existing greenhouses is high enough that they had to open to windows – just on combination of solar energy and the heat from compost against the building. In other words, I don’t think it’s a big loss except perhaps on a cloudy day.

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