Indoor farms are expanding way beyond leafy greens

Things got really exciting when urban, indoor farming first came onto the scene in the early 2000s. The world’s first commercial vertical farm—an indoor facility in which crops are planted in vertically stacked layers—arrived in Singapore. Gotham Greens opened a greenhouse on top of a Brooklyn Whole Foods. Many other farms followed suit, pioneering new technologies for gardening without soil, from aeroponics to aquaponics.

There was a frenetic energy, an ambitious desire to reimagine the global food system and solve food insecurity. And, thankfully, there still is. But when we think about this style of farming, we tend to think only of produce like butterhead lettuce, basil, or micro kale—leafy greens that indeed represent a triumph of eco-innovation but, in truth, will only get us so far. However, many indoor farms have now been expanding to other crops.

In February 2020, Ohio-based 80 Acres Farms installed a grow module right outside the Guggenheim Museum. The neon pink, hermetically sealed installation, which was part of the Countryside, The Future exhibition, became a site for tomato growth on one of the busiest streets in New York City.

The exhibition, which examined how environmental factors altered landscapes around the world, was forced to close due to COVID, but the vegetable growth carried on. As pedestrians strolled by the empty museum, they were able to peer into a window of cherry tomatoes vining under controlled conditions—a food supply that would later be donated to City Harvest.

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