Senator Menendez Visits a Vertical Farm Flourishing in Newark

A look at how AeroFarms is transforming urban farming

New Jersey is known as the Garden State, and for good reason: it’s home to over 9,700 farms. Agriculture is integral to our state’s heritage and our economy — with New Jersey serving as one of America’s top producers of cranberries, blueberries, sweet corn, tomatoes, and other fresh produce each year.

Yet Senator Bob Menendez had the chance to explore a completely new side of farming during a recent stop on his Jersey Jobs Tour. Amid the bustling streets of Newark sits one of the world’s most innovative vertical farms, pioneered by AeroFarms, Inc.

AeroFarms grows over two million pounds of leafy greens each year, making it the largest indoor vertical farm on the planet. The company aims to revolutionize how we feed the planet by using innovative technologies to grow healthy, nutritious food while using dramatically less energy.

A High-Growth Industry

A shuttered steel warehouse on Rome Street seems like an unlikely place to grow kale, red-leaf lettuce, and other greens. Yet AeroFarms is committed to breathing new life into old and unused industrial spaces.

AeroFarms has rebuilt the former steel warehouse of Grammer, Dempsey & Hudson. (Photo credit: Office of Senator Bob Menendez)
“It was hard to believe that a farm could grow in an old steel mill in an urban center like Newark until I saw it with my own eyes.” — Senator Menendez

Few could predict that the former warehouse of Grammer, Dempsey & Hudson — once called “lumberyard for steel” — would someday become a cutting-edge vertical farm with 70,000 square feet of floor space and ten stories of verdant plants.

Yet that is exactly what AeroFarms has made possible. And like many past visitors, Bob was mesmerized by the displays of kale, red-leaf lettuce, bok choy, and other lush greens suspended in the air.

Inside AeroFarms, rows of leafy greens are suspended in the air. (Photo credit: Office of Senator Bob Menendez)

The Local Impact of Growing Local

Upon his arrival, the Senator was greeted by the co-founders of AeroFarms: CEO David Rosenberg and Chief Marketing Officer Mark Oshima. Yet before embarking on his tour, Bob wanted to learn more about what the success of AeroFarms meant for the city of Newark.

Co-founder Mark Oshima told him the company is committed to providing Newark residents new employment opportunities and greater access to locally-grown, nutritious food. AeroFarms is also partnering with area schools to provide children with a hands-on introduction to agriculture and healthy eating.

Bob was especially excited to learn about the company’s plans to build more urban farms along distribution routes near major urban centers throughout New Jersey. Already, AeroFarms has launched a project in Camden to convert a shuttered laser tag arena with 30,000 feet of growing space. That location will incorporate many of the technologies that AeroFarms has pioneered at their global headquarters in Newark.

Touring the Innovation

Next, the Senator donned a protective suit to begin his tour. Walking through the AeroFarms facility, Bob had the chance to learn about the sustainable farming technologies developed by the AeroFarms team — and sample some of the fresh greens grown inside the vertical farm.

Senator Menendez samples some of the leafy greens grown inside AeroFarms.

From the programmed lighting that shifts to mimic the sun throughout the day to the patented nutrient delivery system that nourishes the plants, innovation and sustainability are at the heart of the company’s mission. With their “Smart Aeroponics” system, AeroFarms mists the roots of their plants with nutrients, water, and oxygen.

Using this “closed loop system,” the crops grown at AeroFarms use 95 percent less water than traditional field farming — while growing 75 percent faster. And, they’re pesticide free..

Fresh greens grown in Newark, NJ.

AeroFarms Grows Jobs, Too

One of the highlights of the tour was Bob’s visit with AeroFarms employees, nearly all of them lifelong New Jerseyans. Several workers told the Senator that they never imagined they’d be able to work in agriculture while living in Newark — let alone earn 40 percent above minimum wage with full benefits.

For these New Jerseyans, AeroFarms has provided more than just a good-paying job — it’s also an opportunity to better the community by pioneering sustainable farming techniques and expanding access to fresh and healthy food.

“Not only do they hire locally, AeroFarms is delivering fresh, healthy produce to underserved communities and urban food deserts, proving that being environmentally responsible is also good for business.” — Senator Menendez

Innovation at Work on Jersey Jobs Tour

Like Bell Works in Monmouth County and Kearny Point in Hudson County, Bob’s visit to AeroFarms once again highlighted the critical role that innovation plays in New Jersey’s economy.

Throughout his Jersey Jobs Tour, business leaders, workers, and entrepreneurs have showcased how new technologies are transforming nearly every industry — from how we live, work, and play to how we farm.

The Senator’s goal has always been to take those insights back to Washington so that he can fight for policies that help New Jerseyans compete in today’s global economy.

Read more about the Senator’s stops throughout his Jersey Jobs Tour here.

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