Crops, of course, have always relied on three things from nature: soil, water, and sunlight. If executives at AeroFarms have their way, though, the future of crop growing will be mesh cloth, small amounts of water, and LED lights.
The company is setting up crop growing environments in abandoned warehouses on the East Coast, weaving seeds into a mesh cloth made of recycled materials, with trays of plants stacked on top of one another in long rows. Water and other nutrients are sprayed onto the roots in a fine mist (a concept called aeroponics, which uses 95 percent less water than standard agriculture). The plants receive their light from LED lamps. The growth cycle is 12 to 16 days, significantly shorter than the standard 30 to 45 days in traditional outdoor agriculture.
Currently, the company is focusing on "microgreens," including lettuce, arugula, kale, and other leafy green vegetables, which are being sold fresh to retailers, restaurants, and even schools, within a 50-mile radius of each converted warehouse.
Over the course of the 12 to 16 days, the microgreens are moved farther down their rows, where they receive specific intensities and spectrums of LED light, as well as mist sprays containing precise amounts of nutrients.
How important is the lighting? And how precise must it be? According to the company's website: "We use LED lights to create a specific 'light recipe' for each plant, giving the greens exactly the spectrum, intensity, and frequency they need for photosynthesis in the most energy-efficient way possible. This engineered lighting allows us to control size, shape, texture, color, flavor and nutrition with razor-sharp precision and increased productivity."
The company's warehouses are currently capable of producing over two million pounds of food a year.