Indoor farming gives former New Jersey arena new lease on life

Tue Jun 28, 2016 6:12pm EDT
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By Gina Cherelus

NEWARK, N.J. (Reuters) - In an old warehouse in Newark, New Jersey, that once housed the state's biggest indoor paint ball arena, leafy green plants such as kale, arugula and watercress sprout from tall metal towers under bright lights.

A local company named AeroFarms has built what it says is the world's largest indoor vertical farm, without the use of soil or sunlight.

Its ambitious goal is to grow high-yielding crops via economical methods to provide locally sourced food to the community, protect the environment and ultimately even combat hunger worldwide.

"We use about 95 percent less water to grow the plants, about 50 percent less fertilizer as nutrients and zero pesticides, herbicide, fungicides," said David Rosenberg, co-founder and chief executive officer of AeroFarms. "We're helping create jobs as well as create a good story to inspire the community and inspire other businesses."

Inside the 30,000 square feet (2,800 square meter) warehouse, farmers tend the short-stemmed plants, which are illuminated by rows of light emitting diode, or LED, lamps and planted in white fabric made from recycled water bottles.

The levels of light, temperature and nutrients reaching the plants in the 5-foot (1.5 meter) wide, 80-foot (24 meter) tall columns are controlled using what AeroFarms describes as a patented growing algorithm.

Co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer Marc Oshima said that by producing indoors, AeroFarms can grow plants within 12 to 16 days, compared with 30 to 45 days outdoors. A year-round grow cycle protected from the changeable climate means that indoor farms can be 75 times more productive, he said.

The company plans to move its operation this year to a new facility in Newark with 70,000 square feet (6,503 square meters)of growing space.   Continued...

Watercress seedlings grow on AeroCloth growing material in a vertical farming bed beneath light emitting diode (or "LED") lamps and using a patented growing algorithm of controlled light, nutrients and temperatures for growing a variety of baby greens at an AeroFarms Inc. indoor vertical farming facility in a former indoor paintball arena in Newark, New Jersey,  June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar