New Jersey Indoor Growers Offer Glimpse Into The Future Of Farming

Commercial operators AeroFarms and Bowery Farming believe they form part of the solution to feed the world’s growing, and increasingly urbanised, population.

By 2050, the United Nations estimates that the world’s population will rise to 9.7 billion, with 68 percent living in urban areas. Meanwhile, scientists calculate that in the past 40 years the globe has lost a third of its arable farmland due to erosion or pollution. With climate change an added concern, new approaches are needed for food security.

This is where New Jersey indoor growers AeroFarms and Bowery Farming believe they can play a major role. By growing leafy greens and herbs in a controlled indoor environment on vertical rows under LED lights, they claim to be more than 100 times more productive than traditional farming, while using 95 percent less water.

Furthermore, these indoor farms can grow year round independent of climatic events. At the same time, their controlled environments mean operators can influence product taste, shelf-life and nutrition for the better. Grown locally, their produce also reaches stores within a few days of harvesting; thereby reducing carbon emissions from trucking, and maintaining freshness for a longer period.

“With consumer demand for consistent high quality, nutrient dense and functional foods, and pesticide-free produce at an all-time high, the only way to be able to meet this at scale is using the technology we use at AeroFarms,” emphasizes Marc Oshima, co-founder and chief marketing officer of AeroFarms, which operates four farms in Newark, NJ.

“Overall, there is growing interest in the controlled environment agriculture industry as a whole, and it is exciting to see consumers create a closer connection with their food,” Oshima continues. “We see controlled environment agriculture as a major part of an ecosystem of solutions.”

Bowery Farming, which has two farms in Kearny, NJ, and one in Baltimore, MD, believes both local, regenerative farming and indoor agriculture will be key to building vibrant, local/regional food systems. “The two complementing each other will help increase the fresh produce the world’s growing population needs,” explains the company’s executive vice president of sales, Carmela Cugini. 

Natural and organic food retailer Whole Foods Market, headquartered in Austin, TX, works with both AeroFarms and Bowery. “Customers seem to really enjoy both partners’ products, knowing they are locally grown with no pesticides,” shares Howard Tobar, associate produce coordinator for Whole Foods Market Northeast Region.

Retail customers are impressed by Bowery’s flexibility and agility. “During recent industry recalls and shortages, including romaine and arugula, Bowery was able to keep retailers stocked, and customers happy,” Cugini points out. “I often hear consumers are purchasing Bowery because they are looking for safer, healthier and fresher produce. We meet those needs, and more.”

Customers value the Dream Greens by AeroFarms brand for its freshness, sustainability, zero pesticides, nutrition, and local provenance. “Our customers are blown away by the flavor and freshness and the varieties that we are able to grow,” Oshima attests. “Our arugula offers a bold peppery punch. Our kale is sweet and tender. We have customers doing dances when we demo products at retail.”

Both AeroFarms and Bowery offer Direct Store Delivery (DSD) or work through customer’s distribution centers (DC). Some of AeroFarms’ retail partners also collect produce direct from the farm. Both firms continue to expand reach among local retailers in the New Jersey/New York metro areas. Existing customers include: Stop and Shop, ShopRite, Whole Foods, Seabra Foods, FreshDirect, Peapod, and Amazon Fresh.