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Vertical Farm Takes Food Production to New Heights

RP Siegel headshotWords by RP Siegel
Energy & Environment
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If you happened to overhear someone talking about the relative fertility of cities, you’d probably think they were talking about the birth rate, rather than how much food they can grow. But that perception might be about to change. It’s time to turn the page on what we once thought was necessary for farming, which is, among other things, open spaces and fertile fields.

While you were busy looking the other way, a new way of farming has, well, sprouted up -- as in, you might have to look up to see it.

In the city of Newark, New Jersey, a company known as Aero Farms has decided to build a new $30 million corporate headquarters in an abandoned steel mill, which will include a vertical farm. Goldman Sachs and Prudential Financial are partners in the project. When complete, the 69,000-square-foot facility will grow roughly 2 million pounds of baby greens and herbs, creating 78 new jobs in an area with an unemployment rate that is twice the national average. Aero Farms claims that its sustainable farming model, which uses no pesticides, grows 75 times more food per square foot and consumes 95 percent less water than traditional methods.

This facility will be the world’s largest indoor vertical farm. The crops will be grown in what are called “growing rooms,” which look like giant warehouse racks. The soil-free farm will utilize so-called “aeroponic farming,” where seeds are sprouted atop a cloth medium, fed by misters below and illuminated by proprietary LED lighting from above.

Aero Farms was established in 2004, in upstate New York. Its innovative, patented growing technology was developed by former Cornell Cooperative Extension director, Ed Harwood (now chief science officer). The company’s mission is to “build and operate responsible farms throughout the world enabling local production at scale to grow safe, nutritious and delicious food.”

The principals have won numerous awards including:


  • 2010 and 2008 Technology Pioneer, World Economic Forum

  • 2008 Time Magazine – Top 4 Enterprise for Leading Edge of the New Energy Frontier

  • 2010 Finalist for Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for NJ

  • 2009 Best New Jersey CleanTech Company of the Year awarded by NJ Tech Council

With this classic case of disruptive innovation, the company eliminated the need for all of the classic requirements for farming: land, sun and water, and substituted completely controllable elements in their place. This opens the possibility of food being grown in places where it could never have been grown before. It will certainly be interesting to see if this model can succeed and if it can be replicated at other locations around the world.

Image courtesy of Aero Farms

RP Siegel headshotRP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, Grist, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering,  Design News, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, Environmental Science, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Eniday, and engineering.com among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 53 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP was the winner of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week blogging competition. Contact: bobolink52@gmail.com

 

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