Growing Food Without Soil and Chemicals in Factories – Aerofarms
You must have seen food being processed in factories, but could you have imagined growing food inside factories and that too without soil! – Aerofarms has made it into reality.
Using 95% less water than traditional farming with 390 times the productivity per square foot than a commercial farm.
Saving 70% of the water that goes into agriculture globally.
What is AeroFarms?
Having headquarters in Newark, New Jersey, they are built inside abandoned steel mills.
They are basically farms where mostly leafy eatable plants are produced. It is not just farm, it is more like full-stack vertical farms and world-class experts changing the way plants are understood.
AeroFarms is on a mission to transform agriculture by building and operating environmentally responsible farms throughout the world to enable local production at scale and nourish our communities with safe, nutritious, and delicious food.
It originated from Philips Academy Charter School, AeroFarms prototype was planted in the school’s cafeteria as a teaching tool for students to learn the basics of biology, chemistry, and nutrition and essentially the students grew the greens for the salad bar.
- Aeropaunics –
The technology used is called aeroponics, it is used to mist the roots of the greens with nutrients, water, and oxygen. It is a closed-loop system using 95% less water than field farming and 40% less than hydroponics.
- Light –
They use LED lights to create a specific light recipe for each plant, giving the greens exactly the spectrum, intensity, and frequency they need for photosynthesis in the most energy-efficient way possible. This engineered lighting allows to control of size, shape, texture, color, flavor, and nutrition with razor-shaped precision and increased productivity.
- Nutrition –
All the macro- and micronutrients for plants are monitored constantly in order to provide them with everything they need to thrive. They are able to take the exact same seed from the field and grow it in half the time as a traditional field farmer, leading to 390 times more productivity per square foot than a commercial field farm.
- Data Reviewing –
The plant scientists monitor more than 1,30,000 data points every harvest. Constant reviewing, testing and improvising the growing system with the help of predictive analytics ensure consistent results. With remote monitoring and controls in place, they have minimized the typical risks associated with traditional agriculture.
- Substrate –
They have developed a patented, reusable cloth medium for seeding, germinating, growing and harvesting. The medium is made out of BPA-free, post-consumer recycled plastic, each taking 350 (16.9 oz) water bottles out of the waste stream. The cloth can be fully sanitized after harvest and reseeded with no risk of contamination, acting as a barrier between the mist and the plants.
- Pest Management –
Every aspect of the growing process has been optimized to minimize and mitigate pest proliferation. In addition to the controlled, indoor environment the growing methods disrupt the normal life cycle of common indoor pests so that they never get started.
- Scaling –
The size and configuration of an AeroFarms system are highly customizable and the systems are compromised of modules that serve as building blocks that can be stacked vertically or lengthwise. This allows us to grow in varied locations and achieve ultimate yield per square foot, no matter space, with quick installation.
How is technology eco-friendly?
- Water –
Globally 70% of water supply goes to agriculture and 70% of water contamination also comes from agriculture. Aerofarms uses 95% less water than field farming and has developed a closed-loop water circulation system that recirculates water to the plants.
- Pesticides –
The overuse of pesticides has decreased the beneficial microorganisms in the soil and allowed bad ones to proliferate. The soil is no longer healthy enough to filter out pesticides and render them inert, leading to toxicity and runoff which leads to algal blooms and oceanic dead zones, growing indoors Aerofarms can help in solving these issues.
- Land –
Out of total world arable land, 25% is degraded with soil erosion, water degradation, and biodiversity loss. Soil health and nutrition in food are directly proportional, which means as soil health depletes so does the nutrition of our food. Aerofarms uses less than 1% of the land required by conventional growing.
- Circular Economy –
Aerofarms was the first and only agriculture company to be honored by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation as one of the Circular Economy 100, a select group of global companies focused on eliminating waste and improving our positive impact on the environment and sustainability.
- Carbon Emissions –
95% of America’s salad greens are grown in either Salinas, California or Yuma, Arizona – traveling thousands of miles to get to the plate. Aerofarms reduces harmful transportation emissions by 98% on average because they are built on major distribution channels and near population centers to bring local, fresh greens to communities who would not normally have them.
Criticism and challenges faced:
- Energy Efficiency –
There is no doubt about how AeroFarms help in conserving the environment but what remains unclear is how the company accounts for the emissions arising from the farm’s substantial energy needs.
- Challenges to be faced in the future –
The innovative start-up faces a major challenge going forward about the growing of other staple crops such as wheat, crops to feed the majority of the population which is expected to increase to 9.7 billion in 2050 and 70% living in urban areas resulting in increasing demand of food.
- Traditional Agriculture –
This technology ditches the traditional methods of agriculture in which food is grown in soil and critics say that it may not be palatable for those who are opting for organic substitutes. “If you take the soil out of the system, is it a legitimate organic system?” questioned Carolyn Dimitri, director of the food studies program at New York University.
Future of this Technology:
They are a global, mission-driven company, Certified B Corporation and proud to be named one of TIME’s Best Inventions of 2019.
They also won the Sustainability Award 2019.
It acts on the root cause that is a food shortage in urban areas. If it gets the proper funding and support there is no doubt that in the coming next 10 years these farms would be seen in every country in the world.
In the last decade, a few bold schemes have built on this seminal idea, with the first commercial vertical farm set up in Singapore in 2012.
Japan boasts of its own semiconductor factory-turned-lettuce farm, an idea that gained some attraction after the Fukushima reactor meltdown in 2011 exposed the susceptibility of arable land to long term contamination.
In the UK Growing Underground has converted a second world war bomb shelter in London into a hydroponics farm.
At Ouroboros Farm in California, for example, hundreds of fish are fed organic feed, the waste produced by them is used to nourish seedlings and plants floating on raft beds above the fish tanks.
This technology undoubtedly is one of the best innovations of recent times considering the rate at which the population is growing right now, and there is not enough arable land to feed people in the coming years.
The per capita arable land worldwide was 0.42 hectares in 1960. It will be 0.19 hectares in 2050. In the developing countries, the area gets even smaller, per capita arable land will be reduced from 0.33 to 0.14 hectares. For many individual countries, the option of farming more land does not exist in practice.
Taking these stats into consideration, we have to scale this innovation if we want to feed everyone sustainably.
We require more of these innovative technologies in the coming future to fight climate change and governments should ensure that they get proper support to grow.
I somewhere agree with the statement of the CEO of Aerofarms David Rosenberg, “I wouldn’t be surprised if 90 percent of the players out there went out of business over the next 3 years.”