How This Vegetable-Growing Startup Became 400 Times More Productive Than Traditional Farms

AeroFarms’ 120 employees are reinventing how your kale and arugula are grown–in cities, and indoors.

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BY Kevin J. Ryan - 06 Jun 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Nathan Perkel

Vertical farming startup AeroFarms grows crops indoors, where it can control light, temperature, and humidity. It doesn't use soil or 95 percent of the water usually required to produce greens; instead, AeroFarms plants its kale and arugula in a proprietary cloth material and sprays their roots with a nutrient-rich mist. The cloth was invented by Cornell professor Ed Harwood, who joined forces with David Rosenberg and Marc Oshima to co-found the Newark, New Jersey-based company in 2011.

AeroFarms employee Samentha Evans-Toor checks the plant growth in a Newark, New Jersey, facility.CREDIT: Alex Kwok

AeroFarms, which has raised more than $100 million, sells its salad greens to grocers including Whole Foods and FreshDirect. It says its facilities are nearly 400 times more productive per square foot, by output, than a traditional farm, thanks to artificial intelligence, which helps the company continuously refine its growing process. So the founders hire for more than just green thumbs. "We look for problem solvers," Rosenberg says. "There's an element of: Let's hire brilliant people, and then we'll find a place for them."


A scissor lift takes an employee to the highest levels of AeroFarms' vertical planters.CREDIT: Ellise Verheyen

Dirt-Free Farming

AeroFarms uses LED lighting to create a light recipe for each plant.CREDIT: Ellise Verheyen

AeroFarms has recommissioned former warehouses, nightclubs, paintball centers, and steel mills, which is what this facility at its Newark headquarters used to be. The company's 120 employees come from fields as varied as agriculture, biology, and data science, and they're stationed around the world; AeroFarms even has a demo farm in Saudi Arabia. "I'll never go back to corporate America," says Lisa Newman, AeroFarms' COO, who was hired from DuPont in 2016. "I was known for moving quickly, but it was at a snail's pace compared with this."