Farm-to-Fork

Gotham Greens

What’s your favourite vegetable? Now imagine this vegetable reaching your plate in a matter of hours. Forget about long-distance food transport and tractor fuel. Unimaginable? Think again.

On a rooftop in Brooklyn, Viraj Puri runs Gotham Greens, a hydroponic greenhouse that cultivates delicious, fresh produce — using a fraction of the water and space needed for conventional agriculture. Their mission is to harvest their products before breakfast so they can be on your plate by lunchtime. New York restaurants and grocers scramble to get their hands on fresh, local produce. So what could be better than sourcing veggies directly from the city? Everything from seed to harvest is grown, in their 15,000 square foot hydroponic rooftop greenhouse.

Gotham Greens grow their crops hydroponically without using soil. Technically, plants don’t require soil. They require sunlight, oxygen, CO2, water and nutrients. Hydroponic greenhouses work well on rooftops as you don’t need to haul a lot of dirt up there, or compost, or constantly have to change your soil. It requires about a tenth of the water needed for conventional agriculture, making hydroponics very lightweight and modular. As well as being space efficient, a greenhouse of such capacity can produce about 20 times the yield of crops produced on land.

The customers are also happy. Not only is the produce fresh, local and available year round, but it’s also a consistent and reliable yield. The greenhouses are largely insulated from extreme weather events, like unseasonably warm or cold temperatures, drought, hail, and frost, as well as pest outbreaks and disease outbreaks. The vegetables also have a tendency to be a bit more tasty, tender and more delicate — mostly because it’s grown in a controlled environment and not outdoors. It has not been subject to harsh weather conditions, so it’s not as hardy or as tough.

The economic and environmental advantages, despite the high upfront costs for the sophisticated computer-controlled hydroponics system, are huge. He explains how he sources for the most energy efficient equipment, such as pumps and fans, and has a solar energy system on the roof that feeds a part of the facilities’ electrical needs. The company has also invested in highly insulating materials to preserve heat within the system and relies mostly on natural ventilation for cooling. All products are pesticide-free thus eliminating fertiliser and pesticide runoff. Surprisingly, about 10 times less water is used in hydroponics. That might sound counter-intuitive since the whole concept behind the agriculture of hydroponics is water-based, but this water is recycled. Irrigation water is captured and re-used. In a field, on the other hand, the plant takes some of the water up, and then the rest returns to the ground water.

When asked if hydroponics can solve the world’s projected food demand, Puri is realistic: “I hesitate to proclaim that this will be the future of farming, or that this will be the way we’re all going to produce food for the rest of our lives. That being said, I believe that this type of farming has a role to play, particularly in dense urban areas.”

More about Gotham Greens at NYTimes and Sohohouse.

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