When you think about farming and agriculture, you probably don’t think downtown Newark, New Jersey.
But then, you probably don’t think about the kind of farming David Rosenberg is doing, either.
Started in 2004, Newark-based AeroFarms is disrupting the traditional food supply chain and combatting water contamination challenges by constructing unique, high-tech farms on major distribution routes near or in urban hubs, rather than growing plants on large rural farmlands. It’s a practice Rosenberg calls “vertical farming.”
AeroFarms breaks through the popular agriculture methods and instead uses 95 percent less water than field farming to develop a closed loop water circulation system that recirculates water to plants – and they do this all by growing their plants indoors without any pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or insecticides.
By using less water and producing more plants, AeroFarms is building indoor vertical farms in cities all over the world. “We want everyone to have access to clean, healthy, good-tasting food,” Rosenberg explains.
“We have been charting a course toward a new standard for totally-controlled agriculture since the early 2000s,” says Rosenberg, “Everyone needs to eat. In fact, we need 50 percent more food by 2050, so we need to start feeding our people differently. If we solve the agriculture dilemma, then we can solve water.”
But the road to starting this innovative company was not always bright and sunny, Rosenberg explains. “We learned that in order to make the farms cost effective, they needed to be big – really big. We needed engineers to learn how to design large, indoor farms and how to do it at scale, and there is a lot of complexity for an engineer to figure this out.” Rosenberg proudly notes that AeroFarms runs on engineers who have extremely strong analytical and quantitative engineering skills, but what he looks for most in an employee is their conceptual problem solving skills, “AeroFarms is constantly solving conceptual problems to figure out how we can bring local, fresh greens to communities who wouldn’t normally have them.”
By disrupting traditional agricultural farming, AeroFarms is setting a new standard for traceability by managing greens from seed to package, “And we do it while using 95 percent less water than field farmed food with yields 130 times higher per square foot annually than customary farming,” says Rosenberg.
AeroFarms work certainly has not gone unnoticed. It is the only agriculture company to be honored by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation as one of the Circular Economy 100 and has been recognized as an innovative leader in the food sustainability space.
“As a nation of consumers, we have to learn how to think differently. We have to source our food differently. And for budding businesses, you have to remember starting a disruptive business always cost more time and money than you think, but it is always worth pushing the envelope,” Rosenberg explains. “AeroFarms is a world leader in the space. It is extremely challenging, but at the same time, there is a certain amount of responsibility to feed people and do it better – the challenge inspires us.”
To learn more about David Rosenberg and AeroFarms, tune into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Food Forward summit on Wednesday, July 19, from 8:00am to 12:00pm. You can watch the webcast here.