A Farming Revolution: Plants - Sans Soil
An emergent, mission-driven company, AeroFarms, is revolutionizing agriculture - one leafy green at a time. And they're doing it smack-dab in downtown Newark, New Jersey.Think 95% less water. Think zero pesticides. Think aeroponics....What's aeroponics? Glad you asked. Aeroponics is the process of growing plants in mist - without using any soil. The mist is an efficient way to provide roots with the necessary nutrients, hydrogen and oxygen, while drastically curtailing water usage. AeroFarms has designed a closed-looped system, which means they recirculate their nutrient solution - enabling about 95% less water usage than field farming.Here's what it looks like:The process transpires as such: seeds are scattered on an absorbent microfleece cloth stretched over a planter. Inside the flexible, stackable container, hoses pump both oxygen and the nutrient mist onto the fabric, forming a membrane. The seeds germinate on this membrane. Eventually, the seeds will sprout roots that poke through the cloth and absorb more mist.As the plants grow, hoses will provide carbon dioxide. Sensors are in place to monitor humidity and room temperature. And a conveyer belt propels the greens through a trimming device, removing the roots from the cloth so that the fabric can be washed and reused.A vital component of the process is the LED lighting. A control panel allows AeroFarms to regulate the intensity and color wavelength of the light, which can significantly alter the crop's taste, appearance, and nutrient levels. Imagine - a small modification in light intensity can change the taste of kale and arugula.And in downtown Newark NJ, the former nightclub and lounge, Distinct 89, has been transformed into a farm. An indoor farm is probably the last thing you'd expect to see in downtown Newark, but AeroFarms has big plans for the future. The company has raised over $36 million in venture capital and seeks to produce 1.5 million lbs of produce per year from its new warehouse. This equates to enough produce for 60,000 people without digging up any earth.Check it out here.Why do we need to farm in such a manner?70% of freshwater contamination is directly caused by agriculture - specifically fertilizer and pesticides. Given recent events in the world of climate change, freshwater is becoming scarce. (Ask your Californian friends). Very scarce.The concept of aeroponics has actually been around for decades; however, until recently technological limits have hindered widespread growth. But costs have plummeted and equipment has become more sophisticated, making aeroponics feasible.As you might be able to imagine - capital expenditures are not small. The LED lighting carries the heaviest expense, but scientists have been working to develop "lighter recipes" in which energy costs are significantly lower. In fact, AeroFarms has enjoyed an 85% cost reduction in LEDs over the past six years.It will be interesting to see how this pans out. I might have to take a trip to Newark soon, to see if AeroFarms is truly "redefining the garden state" as their website so proclaims. Regardless, their mission is admirable, and the company portrays a dedication to all stakeholders - people, planet, and investors. Hopefully their next move will be to slap some solar panels on that roof.