Earlier this week, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop announced in a press release an important partnership with the World Economic Forum (WEF) and Newark-based AeroFarms to launch the nation’s first municipal vertical farming program. The motion comes just as the city begins to rebound from the effects of COVID-19, forcing Fulop to reconsider budget spending and the overarching health and wellness of the community—being that Jersey City was one of the hardest-hit areas in New Jersey.
Mayor Fulop said, “It is clear that the virus has had a disproportionate impact on people with pre-existing heart conditions, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes which is directly linked to a person’s diet, and as a result we feel it is more important than ever to focus on food access and education.”
This Jersey City vertical farming initiative will ensure that residents have access to a consistent supply of nourishing, sustainable food at no cost—given they participate in healthy eating workshops and agree to quarterly health screenings. “This partnership will allow us to provide thousands of pounds of locally-grown, nutritious foods that will help close the hunger gap and have an immeasurable impact on the overall health of our community,” Fulop said.
So, What is Vertical Farming?
Instead of having one large layer of crops span across an area of land, vertical farming stacks crops upwards—therefore increasing the yield, without occupying unnecessary space. The beauty of it is that everything can be done inside, independent of the season and weather. Using indoor farming techniques, variables such as temperature, light, humidity and gases are able to be controlled in order to simulate the ideal environment for growth.
In addition to an increase in yield and year-round production, there are several other advantages to vertical farming including it being more sustainable. According to AeroFarms, their aeroponic system uses 95 percent less water than field farming and 40 less than hydroponics. They also use minimal energy by implementing a special LED light recipe for each plant. The combination of all these things has led AeroFarms to be able to grow seeds in half the amount of time making them 390 times more productive per square foot than a commercial field farm.
What Will the Jersey City Vertical Farming Program Look Like?
In collaboration with the Jersey City Housing Authority and senior buildings, the program will consist of 10 vertical farms located inside senior centers, schools, public housing complexes and municipal buildings. In all, the sites will grow a total of 19,000 pounds of vegetables annually.
As previously mentioned, residents will have access to the produce, free of charge, only if they comply with the health-monitoring aspect of the initiative. Jersey City’s Health and Human Service Department will be tracking participants’ progress and the effects that healthier, greener eating habits are believed to have on blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and weight.
“We know diet is a key predictor of life expectancy and the coronavirus has made clear the huge inequities on food access and food education that exists in different communities,” said Stacey Flanagan, the Director of Health and Human Services for Jersey City.
“Establishing a secure supply of nutritious food via locally sourced vertically farmed greens in collaboration with AeroFarms has been a key accomplishment of the Forum’s partnership with Jersey City,” said Mayuri Ghosh, Head of the Healthy Cities and Communities initiative at the WEF. “The shared insights will be incorporated into efforts underway in other global cities.”
How Does it Help Residents?
Since the company’s inception, the mission at AeroFarms has been to transform agriculture and assist communities by providing flavorful, safe and healthy food year-round. They’ve partnered with several other local organizations including Table to Table and the Community FoodBank of NJ to provide communities in need with fresh, local produce—the goal being to reach zero hunger by 2030 in New Jersey and throughout the New York Metro area.
“Societies’ structural food problems have become more clear with COVID-19,” said David Rosenberg, CEO of AeroFarms. “The world needs more distributed, localized food production systems. We also need new ways to get healthy food to our most disadvantaged members of society. I am honored to work with Mayor Fulop and the people of Jersey City to find a better solution.”
Main image via AeroFarms