The New Jersey One Water Awards honor projects that demonstrate great water management. Winners illustrate the One Water ideal by valuing and making use of all water, whether it’s drinking water, stormwater, or wastewater. The awards program is sponsored by five organizations: American Water Resources Association’s New Jersey section, American Water Works Association’s New Jersey section, Association of Environmental Authorities, Jersey Water Works, and New Jersey Water Environment Association. Read about the winners announced for the 2nd annual New Jersey One Water Awards.
Commercial-scale indoor farming facility
David Rosenberg, chief executive officer and co-founder of AeroFarms, is worried about water. Seventy percent of the world’s freshwater supply is used for farming. However, current agricultural practices, such as heavy pesticide use, are a major cause of water contamination. Agriculture also has other problems. Ninety-five percent of the greens for the United States’ $7 billion salad industry are grown in California and Arizona, resulting in carbon emissions and food waste when the packages are shipped nationwide. As these states face droughts and water shortages, this business model has become unsustainable.
AeroFarms takes a different approach to agriculture. The company grows crops inside a former industrial warehouse in Newark. This indoor vertical farm features trays of vegetable greens stacked on floor-to-ceiling shelves. AeroFarms’ patented aeroponic growing technology requires no soil, no sun, and no pesticides. Plant seeds are embedded in reusable fabric and germinated under LED lights. As the roots grow through the fabric and into a chamber underneath, they are sprayed with a nutrient-rich mist. Sensors monitor temperature, light, CO2, humidity, air flow, and nutrients in real time. Sensors in AeroFarms’ growing trays collect 130,000 data points, allowing the company to optimize conditions for each plant.
This aeroponic growing system uses 95 percent less water than field farming and 40 percent less than traditional hydroponic systems. With no insects to harm its crops, AeroFarms doesn’t need to use pesticides, eliminating the problem of polluted runoff that can’t be reused. Indeed, the “closed loop” misting system recycles water and nutrients with virtually no waste. And because the plants never touch pesticides or soil, AeroFarms’ crops require no washing, resulting in another significant reduction in water consumption.
The environmental benefits of this system extend beyond water conservation. By harvesting and bagging its crops onsite, AeroFarms provides fresh produce locally, avoiding the vast, carbon-emitting supply chains of traditional agriculture. Because the indoor farm doesn’t have to contend with fluctuating temperature, light, and weather conditions, its growing cycle is only half as long as field-grown crops, producing food quickly without requiring more farmland.
AeroFarms’ good business practices go beyond crop production. Its building complies with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority’s green building standards for energy and water efficiency, air quality, and waste management. Green infrastructure onsite helps manage stormwater and reduce local flooding. The company has invested in natural gas turbines so it can eventually generate its own clean energy independent of the grid. It is a certified B corporation, a member of the Ellen MacArthur Circular Economy 100, and a strategic partner in the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative.
AeroFarms also makes an effort to provide value to the local community. It has created more than 100 year-round, fair-wage jobs in Newark, a city with an unemployment rate that is twice the national average. As a recipient of a Community Development Block Grant, the company is committed to hiring from the local community. More than 40 percent of AeroFarms’ employees live in Newark, and 85 percent live within 15 miles of the city. AeroFarms educates students at Philip’s Academy Charter School in Newark with a specialized miniature growing tower in the cafeteria. Students use the tower to grow their own food, learning in the process about biology, engineering, nutrition, agriculture, and healthy cooking. This hands-on education is especially meaningful because Newark is considered an urban food desert.
By producing 1.7 million pounds of fresh greens in the heart of a former industrial city, and selling salads at affordable rates to community members, AeroFarms demonstrates a real solution for urban food deserts like Newark. Its indoor aeroponic farming method also holds promise for boosting food security in the face of climate change. AeroFarms has shaped its technologies with an eye toward replicating its methods elsewhere. With farms in development in several states and on four continents, it is well on its way toward transforming agriculture.
Project Partners: AeroFarms, Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group, Prudential, New Jersey Economic Development Authority, RBH Group
Supporting Partners: City of Newark, Ironbound Community Corporation, KSS Architects, Hollister Construction, MBS Urban Initiatives, New Jersey Community Capital