Indoor Farming Industry Is Growing Fast

13 June, 2016

As experts warn of a coming food crisis, the vertical farming industry aims to create plants that offer more nutritional value and require fewer resources.

In vertical farms, plants are grown indoors. Each set of plants is stacked on another. Workers control the climate and closely monitor each plant's growth.

Vertical farm supporters say the methods are good for the environment, and good for the world's growing population.

Experts say the size of the vertical farming market is expected to quadruple over the next five years to nearly $4 billion.


Because of the technology it has created, AeroFarms has become one of the top indoor-farming companies.

One of its vertical farms is in a large building near a busy road in Newark, New Jersey. It grows more than 250 kinds of greens and herbs. Farmers wear gloves, coats and coverings on their head. Their shoes must be cleaned.

AeroFarms grows crops at the same rate throughout the year. The methods it uses lower soil erosion. They also reduce the amount of pesticides and water needed to grow the crops. The company says carbon emissions are heavily reduced and in some cases eliminated.

David Rosenberg is the co-founder and chief executive officer of AeroFarms. "We could do this whether it is in the Sahara [Desert] or a city like Newark," he said.

AeroFarms co-founder and chief marketing officer Marc Oshima says the company grows the kinds of plants that are eaten by people who live near the indoor farm.

"We think about amaranth -- one of the most popular greens in Africa and Southeast Asia. We think about how we can really bring and celebrate different types of varieties and different types of greens that are going to be specific to those regions," he said.

Alina Zolotareva is a dietitian and nutritionist at AeroFarms. She says she wants people to eat more leafy greens like kale, one of the most nutritionally dense foods. She says if her company is to successfully encourage this kind of healthy eating, it must grow crops that taste good.

"Americans especially don't eat enough vegetables, and so for me the most exciting part is all of the different flavors that we have here. It makes eating your vegetables so much more exciting and so much more fun."

CEO David Rosenberg believes the company's kale is tasty.

"A lot of people like the nutritional density of kale, but they don't like the taste. So we can make a sweeter kale using the same seed," he said.

Rosenberg said AeroFarms is helping the world deal with a growing food shortage. He said people must change their focus from the number of calories they consume to the nutrition levels of the foods they eat.

Recent World Bank studies predict that an estimated global population of 9 billion in 2050 will require at least 50 percent more food. Experts say the crisis will be worsened by climate change, which they believe will reduce crop yields by more than 25 percent during that time.

They say the food crisis will have a larger effect on the world's poorest citizens than on those who live in developed countries.

I'm Christopher Jones-Cruise.

VOA Correspondent Ramon Taylor reported this story from New York. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

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Words in This Story

vertical – adj. positioned up and down rather than from side to side; going straight up

nutritional – adj. healthy food or liquid

stack – v. to place things on top of each other; to put things in a neat pile

quadruple – adj. to become four times bigger in value or number; to cause (something) to become four times bigger

erosion – n. the gradual destruction of something by natural forces (such as water, wind, or ice); the process by which something is eroded or worn away

pesticide – n. a chemical that is used to kill animals or insects that damage plants or crops

emissions – n. something sent out or given off

eliminate – v. to remove (something that is not wanted or needed); to get rid of (something)

variety – n. difference, not the same

nutritionist – n. a person whose job is to give advice on how food affects your health

focus – n. the center of interest or attention

calorie – n. a unit of heat used to indicate the amount of energy that foods will produce in the human body

consume – v. to take in; to finish; to eat or drink

yield – n. the amount that is produced by a plant, farm, etc.