Fresh greens from a new vertical farm in Abu Dhabi city will go on sale for the first time in September. The vegetables are grown under LED lights inside eight converted shipping containers using hydroponics - where crops are grown with nutrient-rich water instead of soil. The lettuce will sell for Dh40 to Dh45 a kilogram - roughly equivalent to the price of organic lettuce.
The 237-square-metre facility at Abu Dhabi's Armed Forces Officers Club can produce 900kg of lettuce a month. Smart Acres, the company behind the venture, initially planned to sell to hotels and restaurants but the Covid-19 pandemic had them shift to individuals.“More people are aware of issues such as food security, locally-sourced food and sustainability, so that has really helped put our name out there and get awareness in the market,” said the company’s director, Sean Lee.
“But at the same time, with the economy not in the best state, a lot of consumers are feeling the pinch and very aware of the cost of what they eat and what they buy. So we’re trying to find the right balance.” Smart Acres started preliminary operations in March and has donated produce since then to help the sector. Now it is ready to enter the commercial market.
The start-up cost was “substantial” but the company expects to be commercially viable without outside subsidies. “We do not want this to be a vanity project,” said Mr Lee. Lettuce is a popular first crop in hydroponics because it grows quickly - in about 30 days from seed to crop. Since March, Smart Acres have increased the average size of a head from 120 to 200 grams. Strawberries, rocket and potato seeds will be grown next.
Read more at The National (Anna Zacharias)