Commercial Urban Farming Intensive with Agritecture
December 8, 2017
I used to be a "soil or nothing" kind of farmer. And there are certainly important benefits to cultivating farmland - land conservation, carbon sequestration, and watershed protection, to name a few. But in graduate school, I met Henry Gordon-Smith, founder of Agritecture and co-founder of The Association for Vertical Farming. His passionate advocacy for urban farming led me to reconsider the case for vertical farming - and now it's something that I see as critical to our society, too.
Henry and I had reconnected earlier in the month at Brooklyn Law School's “Growing Greens in the Grid” event, and he recommended I check out their Commercial Urban Farming Intensive weekend. It was great opportunity to meet the talented, passionate people he works with at Agritecture Consulting, and I left the event ready to grow food anywhere I could!
The Intensive is a collaboration between Agritecture Consulting (formerly Blue Planet Consulting) and Farm.One, Manhattan's urban farm for chefs. We started the weekend at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) where Farm.One is housed, for presentations about the urban agriculture industry and farm planning. Elaine King, Designer at Agrictecture, led a presentation on marketing and sales for urban farm operations. Farm.One's CEO Rob Laing also gave us a tour of the farm's facilities, which uses a combination of hydroponic technologies to grow herbs, flowers, and microgreens year-round.
But arguably the best part of any farm tour is sampling the plants. In the "field" and on the plate, each herb was impressively flavorful, having been plucked from the farm moments earlier. Not only were these herbs and vegetables as fresh as it gets, but seeing food being grown always makes me appreciate a meal more.
We began the next day in Harlem at Sky Vegetables, a rooftop hydroponic greenhouse housed above a LEED Platinum building. Scott Carrus, Agritecture's Lead Horticulturalist, showed us how Sky Vegetables is growing and selling live plants, extending the plants' shelf life. Here, atop an unsuspecting building, was a fragrant forest of basil, cilantro, and greens ready to reach New York City.
The rest of the afternoon was spent at Agritecture’s former headquarters (now home to AgTech X) delving into the details of vertical farming technologies. Djavid reviewed hydroponic growing methods, and Ryan Hooks demonstrated his project Huxley, which uses augmented reality to monitor and control indoor farms.
One of the many reasons I admire the team at Agritecture Consulting is their emphasis on the full range of urban agriculture technologies available, with plenty of options to create an operation that's beneficial to communities. Henry and team make it clear that high-tech, hydroponic skyscrapers aren't the only option for cities - there's an appropriate technology for every urban farming need. We may not need indoor farms as much in upstate NY where land is plentiful and threatened by development, but we do need it in urban centers if we want to reduce our food miles and ensure food security in the age of climate change. Or, if our objective is to offer opportunities to educate the public about healthy food, we may choose a more accessible raised bed design instead. What's most important is to choose a farming method that's appropriate for the location and meets the needs of the community.
We ended the weekend by presenting drafts our own vertical farm operations, putting into practice the lessons we learned over the weekend. It was incredibly inspiring to see the range of possibilities available for urban farming, and the international talent and passion harbored here in New York City.