All this talk about aquaponics and hydroponics has me thinking -- what other prefixes can we throw in there?! Turns out, the field of aeroponics, or growing suspended plants in mist, is no longer science fiction. Today we look at two companies, AeroFarms and Urban Barn, who are creating a sustainable agricultural system out of thin air.
CROPS FROM "NOTHING"
Because of the speed and precision, the two companies have each found urban markets keen for fresh produce on the spot, and a variety of restaurants and grocery stores in the US and Canada are dipping their toes in the air. So far they like what they have found, and both companies are rapidly expanding.
Because they're grown indoors, the plants are carefully regulated and monitored. A specific spectrum of light provides the perfect amount of energy, grow times are not at the whims of seasons or weather, and pesticides, hormones, and fungicides are never needed. AeroFarms even boasts the ability to "customize" vegetables, tweaking their textures and flavors through tight control of the environment.
THE AEROPONICS EDGE
Aeroponics is, in essence, an advanced form of hydroponics, and by reusing and maximizing water usage, both systems conserve massive amounts of H2O. Compared to common growing practices, Urban Barn's aeroponics systems uses 94% less water. Over the course of a year that adds up quickly, especially growing 500 heads of lettuce in a square foot!
By growing plants vertically, and growing them quickly, aeroponics farms can grow literally tons of leafy greens in a fraction of the space. As the world continues it's trend towards urbanization, the ability to grow large quantities of food in high-density areas becomes increasingly attractive.
Plus -- speedy, pesticide-free plants generate less run-off waste, keeping our water cleaner for future generations. Honestly -- what's not to love about aeroponics?!
Check out Urban Barn's sweet video on Cubic Farming:
CHALLENGES AND HURDLES
Both companies cite the high cost of operation, as well as the large start-up capital needed, as large hurdles preventing aeroponics from dominating the leafy-greens market. It should also be noted that, so far, the aeroponics market is largely dominated by lettuce, kale, arugula, and basil. Leafy greens are great, but there are still other methods of growing carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, etc.
But the consumer demand for fresh, sustainable vegetables is on the rise, and companies like AeroFarms and Urban Barns can put food on shelves within hours, all without the spoilage and transportation cost of traditional farming. The future is bright for the fledgling agricultural revolution.
Bloomberg.com puts aeroponics on one of it's industries to watch in 2015, proclaiming it is the solution to key agricultural issues. One can hope! In the US alone, the ability to convert warehouses and abandoned factories into high-output farms is a tantalizing promise. If it comes true, the cost of vertical growth systems (currently $200,000!) will only go down. Who knows? Maybe there will be on every block!