by Stephanie Brito
Imagine looking up and seeing rows and rows of fresh herbs and vegetables growing year-round – all without soil or sunshine. AeroFarms plans to do just that in Newark, New Jersey.
AeroFarms, a leading urban agricultural company, is using aeroponics technology to grow a variety of plants with faster crop cycles in what will become the world’s largest indoor vertical farm.
Aeroponics, like hydroponics, uses cloth instead of soil for plants to grow in. For nutrition, plants are hydrated with a nutrient mist and use LED bulbs for more efficient photosynthesis. What this means for mass food production is that plants can grow anytime, anywhere because they grow independent of their outside environment.
The first phase of the Newark facility is expected to open by the end of the year. AeroFarms predicts that the facility will yield 30 harvests a year, which is equal to about two million pounds of baby leafy green and herbs.
The advantages of indoor vertical farming include minimal environmental impact, less chances for contamination, no use of pesticides and more productivity per square foot. For the consumer, this means non-indigenous crops can become local. However, opponents say that growing plants without soil or sun leads to a different tasting product and that the cost of powering artificial lighting will make farming too expensive.
According to World Food Programme, 13.5 percent of people in developing countries are undernourished. In a world where hunger kills more than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined, vertical farming could be a means to feed more people with less resources.
Columbia University professor and author of “Vertical Farm,” Dickson Despommier, thinks these technologies can prevent food shortages.
“The government should be sponsoring [vertical farms] because they feed people,” Despommier told ABC news.
Other companies have already built vertical farming facilities on smaller scales, including Chicago-based company FarmedHere. FarmedHere currently sells its products to almost 50 Whole Foods locations and other local grocery stores using its aquaponic technology.
In Japan, Shigeharu Shimamura converted what once was a Sony semiconductor factory into a vertical farm, which produces 10,000 heads of lettuce per day.
For AeroFarm, strong competition comes not from other indoor farming companies, but from traditional farming, which controls 95 percent of the market.
In the near future, it doesn’t seem like vertical farming will take over the agricultural sector, but in the coming year, AeroFarm’s Newark facility will bring some green to a city nicknamed “Brick City.”