FFAR makes grant to vertical farming company
September 11, 2017
The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research announced a grant awarded to AeroFarms, an indoor vertical farming company based in Newark, N.J. to improve crop production.
FFAR, a nonprofit set up in the 2014 farm bill to combine public and private research dollars, gave AeroFarms $1 million, and the company will matched that with a $1 million commitment.
Roger Buelow, the company's chief technology officer, will use the grant to collaborate with scientists at Rutgers University and Cornell University to improve crop production by defining the relationships between stressed plants, the phytochemicals they produce and the taste and texture of the crops grown.
The work will result in commercial production of improved leafy green varieties and yield science-based best practices for farming, FFAR said.
The grant was announced at an event in the patio of the Agriculture Department's headquarters attended by FFAR Executive Director Sally Rockey; David Rosenberg, AeroFarms co-founder and CEO; Ann Bartuska, the acting undersecretary for research, education and economics; and Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association.
Rockey said vertical farming allows scientists to take advantage of the precision that is possible in indoor systems, where "stressors" from light to humidity to temperature can be controlled consistently and precisely to improve specialty crop characteristics such as taste and nutritional quality.
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Rosenberg said "This FFAR grant is a huge endorsement for our company and recognition of our history and differentiated approach to be able to optimize for taste, texture, color, nutrition, and yield and help lead the industry forward."
Stenzel said "Pioneering initiatives like the work by AeroFarms and FFAR will help lead the produce industry with a science-backed approach to understand how to grow great tasting and nutritionally dense products consistently all year. We believe that there is a need for even more public/private partnerships like this to spur breakthroughs."
Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., praised FFAR for making the grant.
"Urban agriculture has incredible potential to spur economic opportunity, increase access to healthy food, and inspire the next generation of farmers. I'm pleased that the foundation is committed to new techniques to grow food in innovative ways," said Stabenow, who has introduced a bill to establish an office of urban agriculture at USDA and to make urban farms more easily eligible for federal funding.
The grant to AeroFarms was made through FFAR's Seeding Solutions grant program, and is being funded within the Urban Food Systems Challenge Area, which aims to augmenting the capabilities of the current food system to feed urban populations by enhancing urban and peri-urban agriculture.