The world's largest vertical farm aims to feed the masses in urban centers by controlling the pain points of agriculture and eliminating seasons and transport costs. Sharon Reich reports.
Odds are this isn't like other farms you're used to. Located in a warehouse in an urban New Jersey neighborhood, Aerofarms grows crops year-round without using soil or sunlight. The company has an ambitious goal: to grow high-yielding crops using economical methods that will provide locally sourced food to the community. (SOUDNBITE) (English) DAVID ROSENBERG, CEO OF AEROFARMS, SAYING: "We need a new way to feed our planet. Aerofarms presents one of the solutions to do so. Here we can grow in cities, in warehouses in cities, so we're close to where the mouths are, reducing those transport miles and basically do more with less. That's what we need to do. We use to grow our plants, about 95 percent less water to grow the plants, about 50 percent less fertilizer as nutrients and … zero pesticides, herbicides, fungicides." Inside, the 30,000 square foot building (2,800 square meter) are crops of kale, arugula and watercress illuminated by rows of light emitting diodes, or LED lamps, and planted in white fabric made from recycled water bottles. The levels of light, temperature and nutrients reaching each plant in the tall columns are controlled using what AeroFarms describes as a patented growing algorithm. Co-founder and Chief marketing officer Marc Oshima. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MARC OSHIMA, CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER OF AEROFARMS, SAYING: "We can take that exact same seed for leafy greens that out in the field can take 30-45 days to grow and grow it in 12-16 days. It's always about optimizing. We're giving it the right nutrients. So we're looking at the macro nutrients, the micro nutrients, we are adjusting based on the plant variety, the stage of maturation, and we're able to again, deliver a higher quality product more consistently all year round." The result according to Oshima - a farm that can be 75 times more productive. The company's model also eliminates transportation of crops from grow states like California and Arizona to consumers in the Northeast. While they aren't saying just how much food they produce, plans are in development for a larger Newark facility, and 25 more farms in the United States and abroad over the next five years. If growth continues at that rate we could one day see our cities rival the countryside as the home of agriculture.