Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Urban farms in a box

Posted By on Tue, Apr 6, 2010 at 9:37 AM

No yard? No problem. Welcome to Agriculture 2.0.

Take AeroFarms. The New York company builds aeroponic farms that fit inside containers -- soil and sun not required. The containers, which can be stacked on top of each other in warehouses and old buildings, have the potential to transform blocks of abandoned structures in places like Detroit or Newark into agri-lofts tended by urban farmers.

"This puts buildings back into play with a technology that would do something productive and employ people," Ed Harwood, AeroFarms' founder and chief executive, told prospective investors at the conference.

Here's how it works: Leafy greens -- say, arugula or lettuce -- are planted in a cloth bed and irrigated with a nutrient-infused mist that is applied directly to the plants. Light is provided by LED lamps, which are more energy efficient than conventional lighting and can be placed closer to the beds. The LED lamps also provide pest control, says Harwood, because they can be set to emit certain wavelengths that disrupt insects' breeding.

Harwood said AeroFarms is about to sign its first order -- a deal worth between $1.5 million and $2 million. The startup has raised $500,000 from the investors 21 Ventures and the Quercus Trust.

Verdant Earth Technologies, meanwhile, wants to recycle all those shipping containers currently used by industrial agricultural to ship produce from continent to continent and turn them into seedbeds for a local food production system.

Racks of vegetables or herbs would be stacked inside the shipping containers. Josh Hottenstein, co-founder and chief executive of the Tucson, Ariz., startup, says one standard container can grow the equivalent of an acre's worth of crops.

"We control the humidity ratio inside the container, the temperature, the air flow, the wavelength of the light, and alter how the plants grow," he told investors at the conference. "We're capable of increasing the uniformity of the crop when it comes out and the plants are ready for market."

A centralized system can control multiple containers.

"The only labor involved is seed and harvest," said Hottenstein, whose company, which was spun out of the University of Arizona, is looking to raise a relatively paltry $750,000 to get its product to market.

Read the rest of this Grist.org article, by Todd Woody, here.

See AeroFarms in action:

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