Up to Pasture: local artist has vision to turn Landmark into vertical farm

vert gardenTurning the abandoned and blighted Landmark Hotel into a vertical urban garden may sound like a fanciful, farfetched idea, but at least local artist Russell Richards has an idea. The same can’t be said for the City or the hotel’s various owners, who have offered only empty promises.

“I suspect the Landmark is never going to be completed,” says Richards, who has informally presented his idea to City Council, and is scheduled to give a TEDx presentation on the idea. “The longer it sits exposed, the more it deteriorates and devalues. But that’s what’s happening, for whatever reason, so I personally believe the thing won’t go forward.”

Earlier this year, current owner John Dewberry “swore” to one city official that he would begin the project before the end of the summer, but as anyone can see, that isn’t happening.

“I have admittedly gotten a lot of mileage out of the fact that everyone, everyone hates that hotel,” he says.

Richards says there’s a trend now among architects and engineers to design farms ‘up’, as kind of vertical greenhouses, and it strikes him that the Landmark could be an ideal candidate for such a thing.

As Richards points out, the walls are largely open and permit a lot of light to penetrate the interior, it faces southward to the sun, which strikes it throughout the day, there are no nearby buildings casting a shadow on it.

“A vertical farm would actually be a bit different from how I rendered it,” says Richards. ” It’d be closed off, like the greenhouse levels I depicted on the upper floors, permitting crops to be grown throughout the year regardless of weather conditions.”

Richards says that hydroponic and aeroponic growing methods allow crops to be grown quite densely- all the way up to the ceiling of any given floor, essentially- and use a minimum of water, and no soil. So the crop output of such a space would be far greater than the footprint of any given floor.

“It’s an amazing model,” he says. “I’m indebted to the research of Dr. Dickson Despommier of Columbia University, who is credited with the idea- specifically his book “The Vertical Farm”, which is a wealth of information. In ten or twenty years, vertical farms are likely to be relatively commonplace.”

Though Richards admits a feasibility study would have to be done, and that the structural integrity of the building would need to be checked, he think it could work.

“If they can still build a hotel, they can build a vertical garden,” he says. “It remains to be seen whether or not the Landmark has been structurally compromised.”

Still, Richards admits he could be wrong.

“I try to be a realist,” he says, ” even with something like this, which might seem like a fanciful notion. But we’ll never know if we don’t have a look at it. I believe the idea has merit, and deserves further study.”

“I sing and give my voice to the cause I am protesting…”

“From time-to-time this writer marches up and down the mall carrying a picket sign protesting against such things as the Iraq War and the killing of seventeen-year old unarmed Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, or protesting for Health Care for all, what some people call “Obamacare.” (Let me add, Obama cares a lot.) Usually while protesting I sing and give my voice to the cause I am protesting. At other times I play the harmonica and/or sing to entertain or lift the spirits of people who often give me thumbs up.” More here.



“No peace, no justice” Protesters gather on the DTM

Protesters marched across the DTM in support of those protesting in Ferguson, Missouri this afternoon. Though police closed down a section of Market Street in front of the police station as a precaution, the protest, while it included some strong rhetoric, was very peaceful. Speakers called on the Charlottesville community to wake up and realize that the same problems — police targeting African-Americans for stops more than whites, and the militarization of the police –exist here.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


“He’s the most important thing to me…”

“I love the Lord so much, and I love my son. He’s the most important thing to me. I’m also a hard worker. I’m a breast cancer survivor.”


Text and photo by Haley Burton. You can visit her Individuals of Charlottesville Facebook page to see people in other locations around Charlottesville.

“My life struggle is weight loss..”

“I’ve lived here [Charlottesville] for most of my life. My life struggle is weight loss. Seeing that most of my family is big makes it harder to lose weight. Everyone on my dad’s side of the family is big, and everyone on my mom’s side of the family is small. When we take family photos, she’s the smallest in the picture. It gets me down in the dumps because I can’t lose any weight. It’s a real struggle.”


Text and photo by Haley Burton. You can visit her Individuals of Charlottesville Facebook page to see people in other locations around Charlottesville. 

“I was a nuclear engineer trying to be romantic…”

Right: “Let me tell you the extended version of the story of how I met my wife. I took a course at the FEI (Federal Executives Institute) on Route 29. The course allowed a 3 hour break for students in the middle of the day. So during my course’s first break, I went to Oakley’s Gently Used Books looking for science fiction since I heard it had the best science fiction in town. I came to the register, and began talking to the woman behind the counter. It turned out we had a lot in common. As I stood there at the register with about 7 or 8 books in hand, I thought about a way to ask her if she was married or not without scaring her away. In order to ask her without being in her personal space, I went to the door. As I was about to leave, I said to her, ‘Let me see that left hand.’ She raised it up and smiled. I took her out, we dated for two years, and then we married in 2000. We’ve been happily married for 14 years. Nowadays, I give people the abbreviated version of our story by saying, ‘I came in looking for science fiction, and I found a fantasy. I married her.’ I was a nuclear engineer trying to be romantic.”


Text and photo by Haley Burton. You can visit her Individuals of Charlottesville Facebook page to see people in other locations around Charlottesville.