Wet, Not Wild

Goodbye, soil and sun. Hello, controlled environment agriculture.

By Jessie Cacciola

Ithaca-based AeroFarms overcomes the vagaries of chaotic seasonal farming by supplying soil-free, sun-free, modular growth chambers for use in urban vertical gardens.

CEO Ed Harwood, a former associate director of Cornell Cooperative Extension, tested more than 130 varieties of greens including kale, arugula and komatsuna—a spicy member of the turnip family also known as Japanese Mustard Spinach—while developing the business. He even embarked on his own research program to investigate how plants respond to light. In 2009, AeroFarms began selling the equipment Harwood had developed.

Hydroponic systems fall into three categories: deep-water, in which plant roots are submerged in cycling water; ebband flow, in which roots are periodically flooded with nutrient-rich water; and Harwood’s “aeroponics” approach, which sprays the roots. Harwood says by further manipulating growing conditions he can tailor the flavor of each crop to suit a customer’s preference, from sweet to bitter. The system also reduces time to harvest by 30 percent, to just 18 days. “Now more than ever, our world is faced with the incredible challenge of feeding its growing population in the face of limited resources,” he says. “AeroFarms answers this challenge by providing an ultra resource efficient technology that grows high-quality produce, locally and profitably.”

Jessie Cacciola is an Ithaca College Alumni freelance writer

This piece originally appeared in our Winter 2010 issue. For more on our state’s agriculture, click here. 

Photo by Lisa Barker

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