AeroFarms, an urban agricultural company, has big plans to turn a defunct steel mill into a 70,000 square foot vertical farm in Newark, New Jersey. The facility is projected to cost $39 million USD and will provide greens and other produce to local New York and New Jersey communities. According to the builders, it will be the largest indoor vertical farm in the world.
Vertical farms, like other types of urban farming, aim to provide fresh produce to city dwellers. They cut down on the energy demands of shipping food from the countryside to city markets, while at the same time offering an alternative to clearing ever more wilderness in the name of growing food. Vertical farms also have the potential to produce food year-round and can be more efficient in their use of water and fertilizer.
AeroFarms currently operates a test farm in Newark, where they use efficient LED lights and aeroponic mist to grow greens. "The plants are really getting a white-glove lifestyle experience," CEO David Rosenberg told NPR. "They have people catering to their every need." Trays of plants are stacked like shelves, up to 30 feet high.
According to the company’s website, AeroFarms is currently growing over 100 different kinds of leafy greens and herbs. The company was founded in 2004, and uses an areoponic growing technique developed by Edward Harwood, a former Cornell professor who now serves as AeroFarms’ Chief Science Officer.
This style of farming has attracted some criticism. Some worry that the economics don’t make sense in areas with high real estate prices or high labor costs. Others are concerned that vertical farms aren’t suited to growing many types of vegetables, such as tubers or fruit.
However, as the world’s growing urban population continues to put pressure on ecosystems outside of our cities, it’s likely that farming innovations like this one will find a niche and a market.