- Marc Oshima, David Rosenberg, Ed Harwood
Why It's Disruptive
Farming requires vast swaths of land and 70 percent of the country's freshwater supply, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. AeroFarms is eliminating the former and using very little of the latter by bringing the farms indoors. The plants' roots are embedded in a patented reusable cloth material and sprayed with nutrient-rich mist--letting AeroFarms use 95 percent less water than is used on traditional farms. The aeroponic farms, which the company owns and operates, can be built in places where land isn't optimal for growing or clean water is at a premium. The startup has nine full-scale operations, and it currently grows crops on four continents.
AeroFarms collects hundreds of thousands of data points at each farm, and can tweak temperature and humidity to optimize yield. The company uses lighting that can be adjusted easily to control for taste, texture, color, and nutrition. The result is a facility that produces 130 times more crop per square foot than the average field farm. And the company's newest facility, in Newark, New Jersey, will be the world's largest indoor farm by output.
Critics say that the electricity needed to power indoor farms is not only expensive but also produces a massive carbon footprint, making them less environmentally friendly than they at first seem. While AeroFarms brought in the former CTO of Energy Focus, an LED lighting company, to design a custom energy-efficient lighting system, the company still needs to economies of scale to make the whole operation profitable. --Kevin J. Ryan