Vertical Farms Are Green—and Growing

May 9, 2017

By: Shelby Vittek

Newark has a new growth industry—literally.

AeroFarms, an indoor agriculture company, moved to the Brick City from upstate New York in 2015. In April, it expanded into a new facility, the company’s ninth farm and its new global headquarters, repurposing what used to be a steel mill on Rome Street in the city’s Ironbound section. At nearly 70,000 square feet, it is the world’s largest indoor vertical farm.

Vertical farming means growing crops indoors in stacked beds. “This is a new way of farming, and it’s really redefining how we can bring local produce to the cities,” says Marc Oshima, a Morristown native and cofounder of AeroFarms. Oshima, CEO David Rosenberg and scientist Ed Harwood started the business in an effort to address global concerns over food shortages and hunger.

In its original New Jersey location, a 30,000-square-foot indoor vertical farm on Ferry Street, AeroFarms has grown arugula, kale, watercress, mustard greens, red romaine, bok choy and other baby salad greens—all without soil or sunlight.

AeroFarms uses an innovative agricultural method known as aeroponics to grow greens year-round. Plants grow indoors beneath LED lights on a cloth made from recycled water bottles that anchors their roots. Below the cloth, roots are misted with the exact amount of nutrients and water they need. It’s all done without pesticides and with 95 percent less water than traditional farming. It’s more efficient, too: The same seed that takes 30 to 35 days to mature outdoors takes just 12 to 16 days at AeroFarms.

The Ferry Street vertical farm is located in a former warehouse that more recently served as a paintball and laser-tag center. The interior is still decorated with spray-painted neon messages. “Come throw your next party,” screams one wall. Says Oshima: “We’ve intentionally left it up to remember what it was and how we’ve been able to repurpose it.”

A few miles away, students at Newark’s Philip’s Academy Charter School get hands-on experience cultivating greens on an AeroFarms growing bed in their dining hall. The students grow and harvest the greens for use in the school’s salad bar. Last spring, then first lady Michelle Obama visited these young urban farmers.

Beyond educating students and supplying the Newark area with fresh, locally grown produce, AeroFarms has created jobs for more than 115 people. According to Oshima, 85 percent of the AeroFarms team lives within 15 miles of the farm; 40 percent of the staff lives in Newark.

The most rewarding part of the job for Oshima is providing the community with responsibly grown produce. “We open our doors here every Wednesday and set up a farm stand,” he says. “People come in and have access to freshly harvested produce. We always sell out. It’s been tremendous to see the response.”

The company’s salad-greens brand, Dream Greens, sells for $3.99 per package at ShopRite locations in Newark and Bloomfield and at the new Whole Foods in Newark.

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