Urban agriculture is flourishing across New Jersey thanks to an influx of indoor farms and organizations providing fresh, healthy foods to the state’s cities. As the movement grows, so do the number of job opportunities in the Garden State.
Nourishing the World
Headquartered in Newark, AeroFarms lays claim to the world’s largest indoor vertical farm. The company grows safe, nutritious crops – primarily short-stemmed leafy greens and herbs – in a fully controlled environment without sunlight, soil or pesticides because of its cutting-edge aeroponic growing system and LED lights. As a result, AeroFarms’ growing practices are both environmentally friendly and efficient.
“We’re setting a new standard for controlled growing and food safety,” says Marc Oshima, cofounder and chief marketing officer at AeroFarms. “We manage the entire process from seed to package all under one roof.”
As AeroFarms continues to grow, the company plans to create 78 jobs in Newark, all of which will offer year-round employment. Oshima says the employees will work in a “pristine, clean, safe environment where it’s 70 degrees all year long.”
The company also serves the community through local partnerships. For example, AeroFarms has worked with Philip’s Academy Charter School (PACS) in Newark for more than five years to help create an indoor garden in the school’s dining hall. Sixth-grade students are tasked with maintaining the garden, and the vegetables they grow are used in the school’s salad bar.
“It’s the shortest farm-to-table experience around,” Oshima says. “It’s literally feet that the food is traveling once it’s harvested.”
The school garden is so successful it has caught the attention of First Lady Michelle Obama, who visited PACS and toured the indoor garden, as well as the school’s rooftop garden, in April 2016.
Feeding, Educating the Newark Community
Focused on providing fresh, nutritious foods to the public, especially those living in urban areas, Garden State Urban Farms (GSUF) is a for-profit business that collaborates with schools, nonprofit organizations and government groups to provide employment, job training and educational programming.
One of GSUF’s partners is Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. The company recently opened a 1,400-square-foot hydroponic greenhouse known as the Beth Greenhouse on the medical center’s property. According to Lorraine Gibbons, GSUF founder, produce grown in the greenhouse will support the medical center’s educational and health initiatives. It will also be sold at a neighborhood farmers market. In the future, GSUF plans to add a small demonstration garden outside of the greenhouse.
“This educational and outreach greenhouse is a model for both the city of Newark and the hospital,” Gibbons says.
GSUF also has a greenhouse at Branch Brook Park in Newark, which covers 10,000 square feet and typically produces 600 pounds of hydroponic greens per week. The company partners with New York-based Radicle Farm Co. to operate the Branch Brook Park Greenhouse as a dual-purpose farm and learning center.
Additionally, GSUF helped expand the reach of urban agriculture when it donated 125 EarthBox gardens to Jersey City in 2015 when the community launched an initiative to make healthy foods more accessible to residents. EarthBoxes, which are self-contained gardening systems, make it possible to garden anywhere, and the boxes were distributed throughout the city at places like the Maureen Collier Senior Center, the Jersey City Health and Human Services building, and the Berry Gardens Public Housing complex.