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Setting The Record Straight
On Vertical Farming In
Las Vegas

You have to be careful of the information you get over the web. The contemporary dynamic of reputable organizations redistributing content that they haven’t vetted could lead you to think you are getting valid information when you are really being fed a hoax.

Here at the Pundit, we take pride in bringing things to the attention of the trade that might otherwise remain obscured. So many times, in pieces, such as Pundit’s Mailbag — Greenhouses And Vertical Farming, we have discussed the Vertical Farms Project.

It is a fantastic thing. Operated out of Columbia University by Dickson Despommier at the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, if they ever get the Vertical Farms Project to work, it will transform the world.

You can read the key essay on the project here.

Check out the website here.

Look at some of the designs here.

We picked up some of the photos below:

Now, all the sudden, word comes out on blogs and gets redistributed by publications and trade associations that, supposedly, they are going to build one of these vertical farms in Las Vegas.

Most of these sources picked up a story from something called Next Energy News:

Las Vegas to Build World’s First 30 Story Vertical Farm

Las Vegas, the tourist mecca of the world, is set to begin development of the world’s first vertical farm. The $200 million dollar project is designed to be a functional and profitable working farm growing enough food to feed 72,000 people for a year and provide another tourist attraction to the city that does everything in a larger than life way.

The world currently uses about 80% of the available farm land and 60% of the earth’s population lives near or in an urban environment so the logical choice for farming is to go up for land where the environment can be controlled and where distribution is local. Las Vegas is seen as the perfect location for this project by Nevada State officials who would like to demonstrate their sustainability and environmental awareness instead of projecting an image of waste and excess.

Although the project initial cost is high at $200 million, with annual revenue of $25 million from produce and another $15 million from tourists the 30 story vertical farm would be about as profitable as a casino with operating expenses only being about $6 million a year.

There would be about 100 different crops grown ranging from strawberries to lettuce even miniature banana trees could be grown from each floors specially controlled environment. The products would go straight to the casinos and hotel properties and be a very visible and desirable addition to the overall Las Vegas experience. Design details should be worked out in 2008 and the project could open its doors by the middle of 2010.

When we received the story, as is our practice here at the Pundit, we called for confirmation. Nobody seems to have heard of the project.

The Las Vegas Sun quotes Professor Despommier from Columbia as saying it is probably a hoax:

The Vegas Building Rumor Watch: A Skyscraper Farm?

If you’re a city that has already built a faux Eiffel Tower rising out of a casino and a giant lake with explosive fountains that dance to Frank Sinatra songs, perhaps it’s only inevitable that Internet rumormongers will be only so happy to believe you’ll do just about anything.

How else to explain the latest wacky building rumor pinned to Las Vegas: a skyscraper farm.

The so-called “fact” that Las Vegas is building a giant skyscraper that will feed 72,000 people in the city — and serve as a tourist attraction — has been floating around for about a week now on “green business” web sites, Las Vegas building sites, and, of course, Wikipedia. Most of the reports reference a story in something called Next Energy News that cites “Nevada state officials” as saying that Las Vegas is building the $200 million 30-story building, the world’s first skyscraper farm.

Unbelievable? Uh, yeah. But a little too fantastic to totally ignore.

Turns out, the enticing and actually very serious-minded concept of a “vertical farm” was dreamed up by Dr. Dickson Despommier, a professor of public health at Columbia University. Despommier has spent the last ten years developing extensive plans and studies that explore the feasibility, necessity, and practicality of a giant tower that would feed city folks.

Web sites that “report” the building of the vertical farm in Las Vegas don’t mention Despommier by name, but include renderings and language lifted straight out of his vertical farm web site.

Problem is… Despommier doesn’t know anything about Las Vegas plans.

“I have absolutely nothing to do with it,” said Despommier, in an email. “My own opinion is that it’s just a hoax.”

It wouldn’t be the first time someone tried to prematurely tie a somewhat whimsical-sounding building project to Las Vegas. I enjoy the “dreams” page of the blog Vegas Today and Tomorrow for my fix of never-weres (sample: an Addams Family Resort and Casino!).

It is a very interesting concept, and they are continuing to develop it. Maybe the first one will be built in Las Vegas one day. The future of controlled atmosphere agriculture is vitally important for the future of the industry.

A more immediate lesson, though, is that the web is filled with false information. That problem is magnified because many reputable publications and organizations just pick up news feeds and redistribute them.

We just want to assure you that if it is on the Pundit, we checked it out. Sure we could make a mistake, maybe even be hoodwinked, but a real effort has gone into making sure you get information both interesting and accurate.

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