This Vertical Farm Wants to Pioneer ‘Post-Organic’ Food
Once upon a time, every farmer on earth practiced something called organic agriculture, although they never bothered to coin the phrase.
The cultivators of this amazing pre-industrial concept spent their days diligently tending and harvesting their crops without the aid of manufactured products. They protected their plants with things no longer in abundance: worms, snails, ladybugs, and a full arsenal of homeopathic concoctions passed down from hundreds of years of ancestral heritage. And it was, for sure, a tough row to hoe.
Today’s natural agriculture is still organic by definition, but the mechanics to raising that chemical-free produce are a world away from what your parents might have tried in their backyard.
Most states have regulations and long lists that define organic agriculture and what can, by law, be used during large-scale organic farming. And while today’s organic farms may skillfully manage to avoid the use of controversial chemical sprays with complicated names like permethrin and thiamethoxam (which have both been suspected of contributing to the decline in bee colonies), they typically rely on concentrated non-chemical fungicides and pesticides for large-scale production.
An entrepreneur in Kearny, New Jersey, thinks he’s found the next evolution for agriculture: post-organic. If that doesn’t sound like a very inventive name for a process, the system itself makes up for it.
Irving Fain’s concept of farming does away with the swaths of green space we normally associate with wholesome agriculture. He traded acreage for an urban warehouse, a carefully-managed environment and a proprietary technology that produces food 100 times faster than conventional farming. And all of that without pesticides, soil stimulants or other additives, Fain and his company claim.
Warehouse-based vertical farming isn’t entirely new. Farmers have been dabbling in various versions of indoor farming for centuries, finding new ways to capitalize on its water-saving techniques and, in so doing, finding faster ways to ensure quality production.
But Fain’s company, Bowery Farming, uses its own self-automated technology to respond to and manipulate the environmental factors upon which plants rely.
And unlike most full-scale indoor farming operations, Bowery’s system can “sense” when it’s time to pluck the crops – something that is usually done by sight and schedule in conventional farms. That means less wasted product and more predictable harvesting seasons. It also means a more predictable bottom line.
So far the company’s ‘post-organic’ greens are available in two Manhattan restaurants, a pair of Whole Foods Market stores in New Jersey, and Foragers Market in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood.
With increasing concerns about drought and climate change, vertical farms that can operate in limited space with less water and virtually no natural sun may become the next stage in agriculture.
Whether the ‘post-organic’ concept will eventually be able to overtake the organic market’s sizable revenues ($43 billion yearly), remains to be seen. But in there’s something to be said for an industry that uses 95 percent less water than conventional farming and won’t wither with climate change.