Imagine tall buildings in City Central full of crops — and perhaps livestock — instead of people. The Joint Committee on Urban Agriculture hears about where and how it’s happening.

Dickson Despommier — a professor at Columbia University in New York — is one of the world’s foremost experts on vertical farming. He tells the Joint Committee on Urban Agriculture the idea has mushroomed since his team of researchers started working on the idea. Despommier says vertical farming is happening in countries that have run out of arable land to feed its people — South Korea, Japan, Holland, England, Singapore. (Holland is building theirs underground with grow lights.) Japan got serious about vertical farming in a sterile environment after contamiation concerns from the Fukushima nuclear incident.

Stateside, in addition to Chicago, there are projects in Milwaukee and Seattle.

The world population is expected to grow by another 3 billion people — that’s 3 billion more mouths to feed, so this is an idea that is going to continue to grow, Despommier says. He says Missouri has the research institutions, the farming interest and the legislative drive to make vertical farming projects successful in this state.

His presentation on vertical farming shows how crops can be grown in industrial buildings amid dense population. “Just Google ‘vertical farming’,” he says. “It’s a really big deal.”

The committee also heard about initiatives in urban aquaculture and community gardening projects. A bill to push such initiatives in the state is expected to come forward soon.

Despommier says to one member of the committee who asked whether it can grow jobs, yes, so long as farmers are displaced by floods, drought and production moving overseas. He says Missouri, one of several states, can certainly identify how Mother Nature has wrecked so many crops.

By the year 2050, nearly 80% of the earth’s population will reside in urban centers. Applying the most conservative estimates to current demographic trends, the human population will increase by about 3 billion people during the interim. An estimated 109 hectares of new land (about 20% more land than is represented by the country of Brazil) will be needed to grow enough food to feed them, if traditional farming practices continue as they are practiced today. At present, throughout the world, over 80% of the land that is suitable for raising crops is in use (sources: FAO and NASA). Historically, some 15% of that has been laid waste by poor management practices. What can be done to avoid this impending disaster? — From

AUDIO: Jessica Machetta reports (1:10)