In the remains of an abandoned steel mill in Newark, New Jersey, a company called AeroFarms is building what they say will be the largest vertical farm in the world, producing two million pounds of leafy greens a year.
The ‘farm’ will be manufactured using a technology called aeroponics, a technique in which crops are grown in vertical stacks of plant beds without soil, sunlight, or water.
The company has some US$30m to bring to reality this new breed of agriculture. The products are touted as free of pesticides and fertilizer.
Questions remain as to whether a plant can be described as organically grown if it has not come from soil. With its multicoloured LED lights and digital screens on wall, AeroFarms’ research facility feels more like a sci-fi club than a farm.
Plants are stacked and blown with an artificially conditioned breeze. Each bed has columns of LED lights that bathe the plants in a white glow, allowing plants to photosynthesize. The plants are embedded in soggy blankets that act as a replacement for soil, a technique similar to the school-project of planting seeds in cotton.
At US$30m, the investment costs are much higher than for an average farm. The company faces pressures to show it can outperform traditional farms in the market.