First-time visitors often gasp when they walk through the door and feel engulfed by the lush vertical farm inside the downtown Newark, N.J., warehouse run by AeroFarms.
“That’s really exciting to watch. And we don’t normally offer tours to the public,” said Marc Oshima, cofounder and chief marketing officer of the company that began in 2004, in New York’s Finger Lakes region.
Private tours were one of the bonus features of the ninth annual New York Produce Show and Conference, Dec. 10-13. If the midweek trade show is like the event’s main meal, the tours are dessert.
Scheduled for the last day of the four-day conference and requiring separate registration, organizers offered five separate bus tours: Manhattan retailers, New Jersey retailers, Brooklyn retailers and urban agriculture, the Hunts Point Market and the Philadelphia produce market plus a retailer.
“New to the New Jersey tour this year, we’re going to visit AeroFarms, which is going to be awesome,” Susan McAleavey Sarlund, executive director of the Eastern Produce Council, said before the show began. The council is a co-founder of the show.
Crop physiologists, microbiologists and registered dietitians at AeroFarms use aeroponic technology to monitor plant quality to maximize the taste and nutrition of the produce.
Their patented aeroponic method uses a mist of nutrients, water and oxygen and no sun or soil, requiring 95% less water than field farmed-food with yields 390 times higher per square foot annually, Oshima said.
The mission is to create more food using less resources.
The Newark warehouse is the company’s global headquarters and one of the largest examples of indoor vertical farming based on its annual growing capacity, according to the company’s website.
The city is full of designated food deserts, meaning fresh, affordable, nutritious food isn’t easily accessible to residents, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Oshima said they’re working to change that fact. That farm was an anchor to the New Jersey tour.
“As you move into December and think of growing indoors, the fact that you can grow year-round is an important message,” Oshima said before the tour.
The AeroFarms part of the tour enveloped the senses: seeing the growing technology systems up close, “smelling the incredible verdant farm,” Oshima said, and tasting it with a lunch so people could enjoy the flavors themselves.