Time For Your Investments To Grow Up

Yesterday, Chris Mayer talked about the seventh wonder of the United States: our crumbling Interstate Highway System. He also gave you an odd way to play it: don’t invest in the corporate giants. That’s 20th century. Rather, invest in a mix of local producers of goods and services — the businesses not reliant on unjustifiable transportation costs.

I also promised that today we’d hone in on one high-growth tech idea aligned with Chris’s thesis. This is an investment idea made possible by recent technological advancement, and it takes the strategy of local production to its necessary extreme.

The first entrepreneurs to fully capitalize on this idea would create economic value in a variety of sectors. This idea will, among other things: decongest highway traffic, reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, and conserve land. It will also generate multiple forms of clean energy, manufacture construction byproducts, convert waste into a commodity, and produce higher quantities of higher quality food and water.

That’s a lot to take in, isn’t it?

You may be asking yourself, how could a single technological advancement do so much?

Surely, you must think I’m a dreamer, or an academic…

I assure you, what I’m talking about is real. There are already prototypes that prove the concept.

But truth be told, it’s not exactly a single advancement as much as it is a number of synergistic innovations that’s going into this single idea.

That idea is … quite simply… farms.

Yes, farms. But not ordinary farms: indoor farms, within city skyscrapers, and facilitated by state-of-the-art technology.

Technology that includes hydroponics, aeroponics, drip irrigation, waste-to-energy, LED lighting, passive energy, water re-capture, automation… among others.

Sound grandiose?

Maybe. But Chicago recently completed the nation’s largest urban farm… in a giant warehouse. The bar is still relatively low, but it’s a good start.

I know what you may be thinking… factory food. Artificial food.

Not so fast.

A vertical farm can actually produce betterfood.

Indoor farms around the country, including the one I just mentioned, produce fresh, organic food without the use of herbicides, pesticides, questionable fertilizer, or genetic modification. At the end of the day, it’s a higher end product, and can be sold accordingly.

Vertical farms also constitute less risk for their operations, considering nearly half of all crops are wiped out by weather or natural disasters — be they droughts, floods, fires, or sporadically appearing pests like locusts. Taking this point further, the indoor component means the farms are not subject to seasons, so production is year round.

It produces a better product in greater quantities, for more revenue and less risk. Not bad so far, right?

A look at the macroscopic view of supply and demand confirms that this is the right direction…

Let’s very briefly sketch a big picture perspective.

First, consider population.

Appropriately named “the dawn of civilization”, when the agricultural revolution occurred 10,000 years ago, the human population was about 5 million. It has increased exponentially to what is today about 7 billion. 20-30 years from now, we’ll have 10 billion people. But you know what we won’t have?


We won’t have any more land to grow food in the traditional way, and we can’t afford to deforest any further. Our ecological footprint for food production is bigger than the size of South America. So land is an issue, but we can solve that: for every acre of indoor farm, you can save 20 acres of land.

Next is water.

The fact is three percent of the world’s water is drinkable, but two thirds of that is melting in the ice caps… disseminating into salt-laden oceans. Given that agriculture takes 70% of all the fresh water on the planet… water is an issue.

[That’s the magic number: 70%. It’s about to show up two more times…]

The ideal vertical farm would use hydroponics, a process where plants are grown in a soilless container. That would use about 70% less water than current methods. Even better is aeroponics, a process where plants are watered by a nutrient-infused mist. That would save yet another 70% water cost compared to hydroponics.

Needless to say, that’s a much more efficient use of water than we use today.

Even better, there’s no agricultural runoff.

We’re writing in Maryland, home to the largest tributary in the country, the Chesapeake Bay.

Our local economy relies on such an ecosystem, so we know all about agricultural runoff.

Bringing this full circle to the beginning of today’s issue, localizing food and water sources in cities, and building up instead of out, would immensely cut down on fossil fuels and reliance on traditional transportation.

Agriculture uses 20% of U.S. fossil fuels, mostly for farm machinery…

But a vertical farm means its products can be produced locally, and not have to be preserved, frozen, and transported from country to city. It might be the height of a monolithic corporate building, but a vertical farm done right will retain a local community spirit.

And in order to function properly, its architecture will resemble something akin to Apple’s transparent retail store on New York City’s 5th Avenue.

Indeed, the vertical farm of the future will be a living building… turning cities into bodies that function more like organisms, and less like parasites on the planet.

This brings up the questions of light, energy and waste.

But we’re going to have to save that for tomorrow…

Join us then, and discover what the money making “engine” of a living building will be.

And in the meantime (if you remain skeptical that vertical farms won’t be sprouting up from cities in the future) think about how ten years ago, there was only one design for a vertical farm.

Now, Google image Vertical Farm, and see the design competition that’s unfolding.

Click here.


Josh Grasmick

The Daily Reckoning