Vertical farming is key to preventing future food crises for American cities

When I first met Katie Seawell, she was dealing with PPE. A full body suit, rubber gloves, shoe covers — active. You would think she was getting ready to step into a patient COVID unit, but we are so far away from a healthcare facility that you can go, in a building located in an office park. looks dull under a bridge in Kearny, New Jersey. From the outside, it doesn’t seem like anything worthwhile is happening here.

However, inside are rows and rows of stacked vegetables and fruits that look like skyscrapers of agricultural products. I see lettuce, turnips, collard greens, and many other crops that can be easily found in a local grocery store. That’s what the future of food is supposed to look like — at least, a version of it called vertical farming. For Bowery Farms, the company that runs the project, it is an important part of the battle to keep people fed during the tumultuous changes brought about by climate change and supply chain challenges. Company leaders find their role increasingly important as these issues worsen over time.

Seawell, commercial director of Bowery Farms, told The Daily Beast: “We build farms close to the communities we serve and cut down on food intake.

One of those communities is the New York metro area, which has become a case study of what the impact of vertical farming can be, and a model for how to address the factors of climate change. climate change driven by agribusiness.

“Bowery’s journey begins by answering the questions of how do you deliver fresh food to urban environments and how,” said Irving Fain, CEO and founder of the company. to do it in a much more efficient and sustainable way.

Bowery Farms, the largest vertical farming company in the United States, exemplifies the interest around improving the food industry to meet sustainability goals. The company is reported to be growing £80,000 output a week and is expanding. It recently opened a facility in Baltimore and will open another in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Currently Bowery is growing an array of delicious and unforgettable fruits and vegetables, including mustard greens that have a strong bite of horseradish and soursop that tastes exactly like an apple. It is set to introduce other new crops to the market including Strawberry.


Inside the Bowery Farms vertical farm facilities in New Jersey.

Andy Hirschfeld

Bowery is not alone. Down the street from its Kearny facility is Aerofarms, nestled on a side street from Newark Liberty International Airport. Aerofarms grows more than 500 different types of fruits and vegetables in its facilities, from arugula to baby bok.

Competitor Square root are also expanding their operations but their products are more scalable as their farms use recycling shipping containers that can be easily deployed anywhere. They also still operate larger facilities in Michigan and around New York.

None of these companies have been slowed by current supply chain disruptions affecting many industries in the U.S. Vertical farming is not limited by Truck driver, pesticides, or cardboard box Shortages affect the rest of the farming industry.

“We seed, grow, process and deliver on the farm,” says Seawell.

Super savings

For industry professionals, the allure of vertical farming is not at all difficult to grasp, especially as our resources are increasingly depleted over time.

Take the example of water conservation. Conventional irrigated agriculture uses a lot 42 percent the country’s fresh water supply. Based on Production News, an industry trade publication, vertical farming uses 95% less water than usual Farming methods.

On top of that, much of this country’s mass fruit and vegetable production comes from several regions, many of which are already dealing with the effects of climate change, particularly in California. Produce products that account for an incredible 90% of water consumption in the state, but more 80 percent California is experiencing “extreme” or “exceptional” drought conditions. The Salinas Valley, also known as the salad bowl of the United States – which runs through much of the state – produces half of the country’s lettuce. The area has been bogged down in a great drought since at least May, cause Lettuce prices rise to 10-year high.

Then there is Texas, which is suffering from seemingly opposite conditions. Earlier this year, the Lone Star State was devastated by a terrible snow and ice storm. Farmers from every corner of the state lost their crops. It will lost year so that many of them return if any.

In vertical farms, however, the crops are sheltered from extreme weather. Marc Oshima, co-founder of Aerofarms, told The Daily Beast: “We are immune to this because we can completely control our climate.

Another plus of vertical farming is that pesticides aren’t even in the equation. The extremely tight controls these companies have on their farm facilities mean there is very little concern about contamination and disease from harmful chemicals, bugs, invasive species or pests. cause. Regardless, as Seawall demonstrated, these companies don’t stand any chance: employees and visitors are still required to wear full body suits with shoes, rubber gloves and hair bands to limit any any external contaminants.

Vertical farming also gives the community near-instant access to produce. Facilities can be built and operated near or even with dense urban residential areas. Vegetables and fruits don’t have to travel thousands of miles from farm to grocery store and there is a risk of spoilage (food waste in transit is a contributing factor to this). 40 percent of all food in the US ends up in landfills). Even if the product survives the journey, it can lose significant nutritional value; Spinach, for example, can take up to 90 percent of its vitamin C nutrients within one day of harvest.


A worker at Bowery Farms shows off rows of lettuce.

Andy Hirschfeld

That’s part of why New York City has become a hotbed for innovation in this space. It’s the most populous region of the United States, but it’s also far from the manufacturing hubs of the Midwest, California, and Texas. The proliferation of frequent hurricanes like Ida and Sandy has devastated much of neighboring farmland along the East Coast. Just a few months ago, flooding from Hurricane Ida tore through Connecticut and state crops destroyed from lettuce to pumpkin. Nearly 10 years ago, Hurricane Sandy flooded about 10 percent of New York City’s community gardens, is a great resource for consumers looking to establish more sustainable sources of produce. Vertical farming operations simply do not have to worry about these problems.

New York City is fast becoming the bastion of vertical farming. Mayor-elect Eric Adams made a special appeal scale up vertical farming operates in the city by expanding public-private partnerships with organizations to “take advantage of unused real estate.” He also plans to update the zoning law to support further development within city limits. In 2018, a New York City school turned a chemistry lab into a vertical farm. It creates an amazing £25,000 yield in a year, enough to feed more than 6,000 people.

New York City may be the best example of how vertical farming is evolving, but it’s far from the only US city. Start vertical farming Grow achieved success in Detroit, and its products were sold in grocery stores and restaurants around the larger Detroit subway. Much, headquartered in San Francisco and with additional operations in Wyoming and also in Washington, statement of use millions of gallons less water per week than traditional farms.

High bar to clear

While these vertical farming efforts may be able to keep people fed while the climate worsens, the product is so expensive that millions of Americans can’t afford it. That is a challenge for companies like Aerofarms in particular whose products are classified as organic.

“Organs cost 20 percent more than non-organic counterparts,” says Oshima of Aerofarms. “Obviously, we need that 20% premium to make money but our ambition is to reduce the price.”

Supply chain disruptions have raised prices of everything from milk to beef, only further increasing this disparity.

“These methods are great alternatives to being able to grow food but at the moment they don’t appear to be particularly targeted at low-income communities,” said Luciano Contreras, food retail manager RiseBoro Community Partnerships, a nonprofit that provides service support to low-income families in Brooklyn, told The Daily Beast.

Contreras’ sentiment is echoed by research out of Cambridge University, which found that urban farming practices such as vertical farming are more common in the city’s affluent communities than in the city’s poorer communities.


Vertical farms are proving to be capable of producing most common crops. Here, Bowery Farms shows off its strawberries.

Andy Hirschfeld

And in the global market landscape, disruptions to vertical farming are likely to exacerbate disparities in developing countries.

One example is Aerofarms’ partnership with Cargill Cocoa in Europe, to address water-intensive cocoa production at a time when potable water is particularly scarce. On the surface it looks like a good thing, but based on these activities in Europe will cut the demand for Imported to the West from Africa, where 70% of the world’s cocoa is grown. Aerofarms countered that the research and development relationship with Cargill would help supplement cocoa production in Ivory Coast, which is increasingly limited and facing the effects of climate change. But that remains to be seen.

Fortunately, it looks like the vertical farming footprint is expanding beyond just supplying Whole Foods around the world. Farm crops are available at grocery stores throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, including Giant Foods, Walmart and Albertsons among others. AeroFarms recently announced a new distribution partnership with Stop & Shop. InFarms, based in Germany, is working to deliver products to Kroger stores across the US

While far from perfect, it looks like vertical farming is at least part of the future of farming, even if it’s unexpectedly localized “in another unquestionably office park.” , as Seawell described during my visit to Bowery Farms. Perhaps it is not as surprising as we think. As cities started to swell with larger populations and we started building taller and taller buildings to accommodate everyone, it was only natural for our farms to start reaching sky. Vertical farming is key to preventing future food crises for American cities

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