Downtown Charleston is known for its historic landmarks: Rainbow Row, The Battery, Marion Square, the Old Exchange Building, the City Market and the vertical farm.
Clemson University is planning to build a "vertical farm" in downtown Charleston.
The university's Institute of Applied Ecology has received $33,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency to study the feasibility of retooling an existing building into a farm powered by sustainable energy. The study will be completed and presented to the city of Charleston in early 2012.
Vertical farming, currently only conceptual, would mean growing produce and even animal life in high-rise buildings in urban areas. The biggest cost benefit would come in the form of a controlled, year-round growing environment safe from such environmental hazards as droughts and insects and that doesn't require fertilizers and pesticides, said Gene Eidson, director of the institute and principal investigator for the study.
Vertical farming also would save space and bring food production closer to the consumers, thus reducing transportation costs.
"You'll have control of climate and control of temperatures," Eidson said. "You'll be producing and employing in the city. In the future, we believe that a lot of produce will be grown within the urban footprint."
The vertical farm, which Eidson described as a "self-contained agricultural factory," could use a variety of alternative energies; mainly solar and low-energy wind power, but also others such as hydrogen fuel. It also could grow crops without soil, using hydroponics -- growing plants in just nutrient-rich water -- and aeroponics -- growing plants in midair by spraying them with water.
The study has yet to determine a final design for the building, but Eidson said it could include a multistory greenhouse complex on the upper portion, a fish hatchery and composting area below that and on the bottom a food bank and other partners that use the produce.
The farm would require energy to keep the lights on to grow longer-day crops, and would not be able to produce major grains such as wheat. But Eidson said it would produce a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Eidson said the city probably will nominate three buildings, and the team at Clemson will work with the city and community about the suitability of those buildings and locations.
The study may conclude that building a new structure would be less expensive than repurposing a building.
The actual project will seek a public-private partnership for funding.
The project also will involve specialists from the College of Charleston, The Citadel and Trident Technical College. Clemson University's faculty and graduate students also plan to link with regional universities, technical schools and high schools to create an "education hub" for sustainability.
The project also is meant to promote environmental justice by bringing healthy foods to needy residents and neighborhoods and encouraging citywide healthy food initiatives.