NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Fresh summer crops are starting roll in and this year the leafy greens you’re eating could be coming from a farm in Newark.
CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez explored how some farmers in New Jersey are growing crops in an innovative way.
A former paintball arena in Newark is not the most obvious place for a farm. You won’t see acres of farmland, but towers. It’s what’s known as a vertical farm.
“We define it as multiple levels of growing — one level on top of another approximately every three feet. The system behind us is 20 feet high and it has seven levels of growing,” AeroFarms co-founder David Rosenberg said as he stood in front of the setup.
There’s no soil and no sunlight, but Rosenberg said productivity fair exceeds the output of a conventional farm.
“Because of fully controlled environments, we have 22 crop turns a year versus typically three, and we do that additionally using 95 percent less water, typically 50 percent less fertilizers or nutrients, and zero pesticides, herbicides, fungicides,” Rosenberg said.
It’s done by delivering the exact spectrum of light the plants need, and by aeroponics — a system of growing that mists roots with water and nutrients.
“We study what the plant wants. What are those nutrients, micro-nutrients? And we’re able to deliver it to the plant,” he said.
Seeds are germinated on a reusable cloth that co-founder Marc Oshima said has been specifically created as the optimum growing medium for this type of farming.
“Here, we’re using 100 percent recycled plastic. We’re actually taking 24 water bottles out of the waste stream and creating something green and productive,” Oshima said.
The panels are transferred to the tower where over the course of only 12 to 16 days, they move along the row where they grow and are harvested.
“We’re able to give consumers products that are actually better and tastier and more interesting than something that they would find in the store,” dietitian and managing manager Alina Zolotareva said.
The methods can even make usually tough and bitter kale sweeter and more tender.
“Right now we are selling out. We have more demand than we have supply,” Zolotareva said.
Right now AeroFarms is growing more than 10 varieties of baby leafy greens such as romaine, arugula and watercress and there are major plans for expansion. In spite of the hi-tech growing, they’re priced competitively in supermarkets.