Innovation is taking underground farming from concept to reality

Ag & Food |  2 min. read

(Photo credit: Farm One)

Today a restaurant in Manhattan can use ingredients native to Mexico and still get away with calling itself farm-to-table.

It’s not false advertising. At Atera, a Michelin two-star fine-dining eatery in Manhattan’s TriBeCa neighborhood, Chef Ronny Emborg doesn’t need to travel to the Yucatán Peninsula or Southeast Asia to access edible plants that are native to those areas. Instead, he can use an elevator.

Underneath his restaurant lives Farm.One, a 1,200-foot hydroponic, underground farm. A wide variety of rare edibles from around the world flourish in this small space, including microgreens, herbs and edible flowers. The vertical farm grows over 700 different microgreens and rare herbs year-round.

New York City. Also, locals in the community can pick up popular greens like micro broccoli, micro parsley and micro cilantro, or rare herbs like Blue Purple Amethyst Basil and Pink Candypops Mint. Delivery service is offered within Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The concept took root at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in 2016, then expanded to TriBeCa. More are planned in other cities.

Modern agricultural practices and innovative materials are what make this unique subterranean farm possible. Vertical farming, hydroponics, aquaponics, deep water culture, these are all the latest terms to describe modern techniques for urban farming. Lettuces, herbs and other specialty products are grown within food-safe trays made from high-quality plastics like high-density polyethylene, derived from the petrochemical ethylene, which keep plants safe and secure, while allowing them to absorb nutrients and oxygen directly from water.

LED lighting, of course, is central to hydroponic farming. Reliable and long-lasting, thanks in part to their epoxy encapsulant, LEDs have made it both efficient and affordable to grow crops indoors — even in small, limited spaces like a basement in New York City. Those critical epoxies are made from combining bisphenol A and epichlorohydrin, which come from the petrochemical building blocks propylene and benzene.

Farm.One calls itself a specialty farm of the future. Such farms can expand access to fresh healthy foods in urban centers worldwide, eliminating the need to ship them in from farms out of town, or overseas.

“We’re definitely seeing a lot more people building vertical farms, whether that’s doing specialty greens like we’re doing, or mass market leafy greens,” says Rob Laing, CEO & Founder of Farm.One. “The technology is getting cheaper and cheaper.”

And as the technology becomes cheaper, “you’ll be able to grow strawberries, and tomatoes and fruit and other things that right now is a bit tricky to do commercially,” Laing added.