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Vertical Farming companies around the country are pushing beyond salad ingredients. Inside a warehouse in Kearny, New Jersey, thousands of strawberries beneath bright lights grow in rows. This warehouse is one of the research and development centers of Bowery Vertical Farming to change how to grow vegetables and fruits. As part of their limited release, the company will sell strawberries for the first time. These berries will taste the same during the depths of winter and peak of summer.
Customers can buy these berries in New York City at some gourmet grocers. Plenty, one of Bowery’s vertical farming competitors, displayed it is planning to build an indoor strawberry farm with Driscoll, a major berry grower, to serve retailers and customers in the Northeast. Their vertical farming rivals include PlantLab, AeroFarms, and BrightFarms.
A New Spin on Farming
Over the past 12 months, inflation increased food prices by 7.9%. The pandemic underscored the intricacies of the supply chain and stripped down some grocery shelves, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine emphasized the threat of depending on other countries to grow food. Produce in vertical farming uses less water and is pesticide-free, resulting in bigger yields. Since these vertical farms are near urban areas, consumers can eat high-quality produce quicker.
These farms account for a small percentage of the produce that Americans buy and eat; broccoli, sweet corn, lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Vertical farming advocates see this as a more sustainable way to supply food in a growing population. While Walmart recently invested in Plenty vertical farming, it carries some of the Bowery leafy greens in its stores. The young industry already has buy-in from some of the biggest names in food.
Breaking Into Berries
The Bowery strawberries grow in vertical farming buildings resembling a combination of a large indoor garden and a science laboratory where agriculture specialists dressed in laboratory coats, hairnets, and booties check their crops. The whirring ventilation, bright lights, and intricate watering systems help create a stable growing environment in vertical farming even when summer temperatures blaze or sleet and snow fall.
The Bowery research and development vertical farming site in New Jersey is in Kearney, 11 miles west of New York City. In addition, they have another vertical farming site in Nottingham, Maryland, and three commercial farms underway in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Dallas, and Atlanta.
The berries in Vertical farming are more complex to grow than leafy greens. Bowery chose the wild and garden berries for their pleasing taste and texture. Garden berries have a classic balance of tartness and sweetness, while wild berries have more distinct floral and tropical notes.
Bowery wants to scale its vertical farming strawberry business so it can sell to foodies and mainstream grocery stores for shoppers. Currently, Albertsons and Walmart sell Bowery lettuce. Plenty will operate its first dedicated strawberry farm by the end of 2030.
Bowery contracted Traptic last month to use powerful cameras and artificial intelligence to determine crops ripeness at its prime. Its robotic arms will harvest even fragile fruits like strawberries and tomatoes.
Strawberries thrive in the foothills of the French Alps, Chile, the coasts of California, relying on fluctuating temperatures of warmer days and cool nights to get the right flavor and texture.
Wilder Fields Vertical Farming in South Chicago
In South Chicago, Wilder Fields operates a vertical farming site using floor-to-ceiling spaces and will open a much larger location in the south suburbs, selling produce locally to restaurants, residents, and markets. Next year, the company plans to start production and be fully operational in 2023.
A 135,000 square-foot space in Chicago that used to house a Target will get a new life growing greens that grow kale and other leafy greens in the Calumet City area.
When completed, the Wilder Fields facility will produce 25 million lettuce heads in seven acres of the vertical farm every year. In addition, the facility will create 80 new jobs and introduce robotics to collect the plants. Robotics is not unheard of in vertical farming making Wilder Fields one to watch. The farm will use AI software and cameras to regulate the environment to adjust to temperature and light.
Written by Janet Grace Ortigas
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware
CNBC: These strawberries were grown in a New Jersey warehouse — and they may revolutionize how Americans eat; by Melissa Repko
ABC7 Chicago: Vertical farm Wilder Fields opening Calumet City location; by Leah Hope
The Spoon: Wilder Fields Turns an Abandoned Target in Chicago Into a Vertical Farm; by Jennifer Marston
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Satoshi Kinokuni’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Andrew Wilson’s Page – Creative Commons License