You have 9 hours to save the world

You have 9 hours to figure out how to save the world

During those 9 hours, I got hit with a big surprise and something amazing happened, but let me tell you the story of how I got there first.

The Association for Vertical Farming partnered with Columbia University’s Sustainability Management program, Blue Planet Environmental, and Arise International to launch an interdisciplinary collaborative workshop focused on urban agriculture and vertical farming.

I spent the past weekend working with 7 teammates who participated based on different professional backgrounds to design a concept vertical farm from the ground up and pitch it.  I went as a marketing professional and was lucky enough to be able to present our project in front of a panel of judges that included Dr. Dickson Despommier and Esther Dyson, one of the founders of LinkedIn.


Friday night, we hit the ground running after a brief networking session, sheltered from the cold rain that infiltrated NY the entire weekend.  I met consultants and architects from all over the world before I split off into my group to spitball a site for our project.

We chose a site and ended the night at the cafe Jerry, George, and Elaine made famous on Seinfeld before regrouping early the next morning.  I put half a danish and a cup of coffee in my belly and we worked until our 6:00 deadline; 9 hours across both days.  At the end of it all we came up with one of the most amazing projects that I’ve ever had the chance to work on.

Our Project

Fresh Direct did $400M in sales in New York last year, but they are struggling.  They have a community image problem.  Dedicated activists and NGOs in the South Bronx are currently blocking a project they have funded and subsidized by the city to the tune of $140M.  And in all honesty, they are right to be critical of the project.

Stories are running about the Mott Haven neighborhood in particular.  Residents there want green space that entices community business, serves as a safe community gathering space, reduces its asthma rates, which are already among the highest in the nation, and that offers the flood zone they live in protection in case of another Sandy.

They want parks instead of parking lots.  Fresh Direct plans to build just another warehouse.  How does the community grow from “just another warehouse?”

It’s a good question, and one our proposal addresses. Mott Haven Fresh is a conceptual rooftop greenhouse and community space integrated with the planned Fresh Direct complex.  The farm will work with in partnership with Fresh Direct to supply the facility with hyperlocal, environmentally friendly food, as well as nourishing the neighborhood at large.

mott haven fresh

This is the integrated greenhouse design we came up with

The project allows the Fresh Direct distribution proposal to move forward while also addressing the needs of the community: 60 new jobs exclusively for community members within the rooftop greenhouse, 300,000 sq. ft. of native, manicured green space sloping up from the riverside to the greenhouse, 1200 ft of storm surge protection, air quality improvement and an estimated 9.6 million heads of lettuce grown each week.  Those are economic, environmental, and health benefits for an area that already struggles for access to nutritional options in the middle of a food desert.

In addition, the facility will be dedicated to helping community members learn about growing their food through publicly accessible educational greenhouses and gardens.  All surplus food will be donated back to that same community.

(note, I took this text from a piece I helped write for another post on Agritecture.  More about that at the end of this piece)

My Surprise

It was 5:30 and my team had put together this amazing project.  Megan Gardner, Samantha Cohen, Marivi Perdomo Caba, Francois Cramer, Shaheen Contractor had designed this site from nothing while ensuring it would be energy efficient and extremely productive.  Erin McNally, who had originally suggested the site, explored cogen options and put together our financial projections with Dustin Betz.  Dustin also helped Kate Ahearn and I put together our marketing message and materials.  I know everyone was working on so much more than I listed here, but we were so far to the grindstone with our own tasks that it was hard to keep up with everything.

We finally got it into the powerpoint (above) that Sam, Erin, and I would present to the group at large.  Kate saved us as well, jumping in to answer some of the tough, technical growing questions. The only trouble was that we didn’t have time to practice it in the final version.  The live presentation was the first time any of us had seen those slides put together the way we were, and the second time we had seen the slides at all!  It was awesome to see that, even with such a short amount of time to put everything together, everyone knew the project so well that we could improvise to the finish.  Below is that presentation.

I remember telling someone about it afterwards and describing my opening pitch as only about 30 seconds long.  It’s clearly longer, and that’s an interesting insight for how the stress (the good kind!) of the moment warps your senses a little.

In the end, something must have worked.  The panel of judges, even among the other strong projects at the event, still awarded us with 1st place!

I was ecstatic to be recognized with my team in front of so many respected professionals and grateful to be part of such an amazing weekend.

The collaboration and connections that began at this event are going to have a lasting effect on the vertical farming industry and I’m glad to be a part of it.

Link to Agritecture Post.  Henry Gordon-Smith of Agritecture did an amazing job putting this event together and I hope everyone who participated was able to thank him.  He, and the Association for Vertical Farming, have more planned for the future, and this was such a great experience for me that I encourage everyone to go.

Also, I know this post was a little more like a personal blog than a lot of my readers are used to, but I’m wondering if you liked it?  I look forward to your feedback; twitter is a good way to get in touch, or you can sign up for my mailing list and reply to the emails I send.  In either case, I’ll get back to the nitty gritty analysis next, but as always, thank you for being here.

2 thoughts on “You have 9 hours to save the world

  1. Pingback: Living Furniture: How the aquaponic table came to be | The Urban Vertical Project

  2. Pingback: More info than you ever wanted to start your vertical farm | The Urban Vertical Project

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