Episode 96: Dick Despommier discusses vertical farming and fly fishing

// Sep 24, 2019

Today we have part two of our interview with Dr. Dickson Despommier, a microbiologist and ecologist who is the emeritus professor of public and environmental health at Columbia University.

Today’s episode focuses on vertical farming, a concept that Dick and his students came up with in 1999. When Dick’s book “Vertical Farms: Feeding the World in the 21st Century” came out in 2010, there were no vertical farms in the world. Today, there are vertical farms throughout the U.S. and around the globe.

Part one of our interview, episode 95, covered Dick’s nearly 30 years of research into intracellular parasitism and his focus on Trichinella spiralis, one of the world’s largest intracellular parasites.

Dick is the author of five books, including “People, Parasites and Plowshares.” His most recent book, “Waist Deep in Water,” is a memoir of his life-long love of fly fishing, a topic we had so much fun discussing with Dick that we touch on it in today’s episode as well as in part one of our interview with Dick.

Show notes:

[00:02:08] Ken opens part two of our interview with Dick by pointing out that there were no vertical farms in the world when Dick’s book “The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21stCentury”came out in 2010. Ken asks Dick to give an overview of the idea behind vertical farms and also discuss how the idea gained momentum.

[00:06:33} Dick explains how the students’ original concept of rooftop gardens evolved into the idea of growing plants inside buildings.

[00:08:14] Dick talks about the growth of vertical farming since 2011 and how Japan is the country that has the highest number of vertical farms.

[00:09:26] Ken describes a vertical farm located in the heart of Jackson Hole, Wyo., called Vertical Harvest. It’s a 13,500 square-foot green house that can grow produce that is equivalent to 10 acers of traditional farming. This vertical farm sells produce year-round, mostly to local restaurants and grocery stores, but also to individuals who want to go onsite to buy their produce directly. Ken asks if this is a good example of what Dick was hoping for when he conceived of the idea of a vertical farm.

[00:13:16] Ken asks Dick to address the criticisms of vertical farming and how the cost of building these structures outweighs the advantages.

[00:17:14] Dawn points out that Dick was named teacher of the year eight times during his time at Columbia and asks him for his thoughts about what it takes to become a good science teacher.

[00:19:49] Dawn asks about Dickson’s recently published memoir about his love affair with fly fishing, titled “Waist Deep in Water.”

[00:20:39] Dick talks about the literature professor that “Waist Deep” is dedicated to and how the professor inspired Dick to start writing.

[00:22:07] Dickson tells the story of how he caught his first trout.

[00:29:04] Ken ends the interview by asking about Dick’s favorite Shakespeare quote that Dick says gets to the heart of what really matters in life.


Dickson Despommier bio

“The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21stCentury”

“People, Parasites and Plowshares: Learning From Our Body’s Most Terrifying Invaders”

The Living River website

“Waist Deep in Water”

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage 

Ken Ford bio

Dawn Kernagis bio