A Botanical Basement
Farm.One takes cannabis technology to crave our hunger
By Stephen Troiano
For fellow New Yorkers reading this, have you ever had a thought while standing on the banks of the East or on a rooftop looking at our island city, with it’s skyscrapers and grand vastness, “What could all of these buildings hold within?”
Apartments, retail stores and offices. Art galleries and recording studios, perhaps? Restaurants at street level or above. So much space inside of our buildings how could it all be the same?
What about below? Other than subway tunnels and furnaces and rat colonies, what consists in the basements? How about a farm? An actual growing farm with herbs and plants with no natural sunlight supplying our city’s best Michelin restaurants with the produce they desire. Yes, it exists. How could you have missed it?
Farm.One, a hydroponic farm located in the basement of a Tribeca building which also houses a veterinarian clinic and the two Michelin star restaurant Atera, is taking urban agriculture to the next level. With access to over five hundred different types of seeds, Farm.One supplies Michelin rated and popular restaurants such as Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, Le Turtle, Daniel, Mission Chinese Food and Emily.
Farm.One has been sprouting since their founding in February 2016, with their first, smaller farm located at the Institute of Culinary Education, also in Lower Manhattan.
Hydroponic technology and farming has developed rapidly in recent years due to the cannabis industry, both legally & illegally. Illegitimate marijuana growers had to be discrete so they would be forced to grow in basements with LED lights, recycled water and no soil to avoid detection.
In a compact place like New York City, where the next best options for locally sourced produce would come from either rooftop gardens or outside of the city limits, this technique has given chefs better access to products they desire.
Known farms including Chef’s Garden in Ohio and freshorigins.com in California would supply New York chefs with edible flowers, microgreens and other specialty plants they desire from hundreds or thousands of miles away. Farm.One is able to deliver to 90% of their clients in 30 minutes or less via bicycle, meaning no automotive emissions. By growing to each order they have the ability to keep produce as fresh as possible.
Growing produce with hydroponics blocks away from the consumer is proven to be better for the environment in more ways than cutting down on automotive emissions. The only waste Farm.One generates is plant matter, which they compost. As for the water—it’s recycled, which equals 95-98% less water consumption than a conventional farm. They are also pesticide free because, well, they don’t have to worry about harmful insects that live outside. Instead, Farm.One deliberately uses beneficial insects such as ladybugs to eat harmful, smaller pests and keep their plants clean in a natural way.
Rob Laing, CEO of Farm.One, gave me a tour of the facility and showed me many types of plants and herbs; it’d be impossible to remember what each flavor belonged to. Although, credit to Rob, he’s so familiar with all of these varieties I’m sure he could do a taste test blindfolded. He showed me everything from bronze fennel, different types of basil ranging from sweet Thai, lemon, purple and pluto, mini onion, dragon’s tongue arugula, bull’s blood beets and enough mustard to make my mouth burn. For myself, it was more of a gastronomical experience than botanical. It says a lot about a product if you can still taste it an hour after while drinking a porter stout and eating a bowl of cheese puffs.
Rob hopes that by bringing agriculture back to the people, or rather 8.5 million New Yorkers, our perception and appreciation towards food will change for the better. He told me, candidly, that, “Kids are more familiar with a chicken nugget than a leaf from a plant.” His efforts to inform the public about hydroponics has recently taken a literary turn, as his book Ditch the Dirt: Grow Edible Hydroponic Plants at Home is set to appear on bookshelves across the country.
As of 2015, there’s 450 million square feet of office space in Manhattan, which equals about 10,330 acres worth of capacity. Again, for urban ignorance’s sake, an acre is about the size of a football field minus the end zones. With millions of commuters coming into Manhattan on a daily basis, this may seem like more than enough office space for everybody. Whether that may or may not be true, consider that New York’s largest urban farm, Brooklyn Grange at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, has only one acre of farming space on the roof. If Farm.One is able to provide chefs with their produce needs while only taking up 120 square feet of space, maybe one day when we’re standing on the banks of the East River looking at Manhattan we could add hydroponic farms to the list of apartments, office spaces, retail stores and art galleries with confidence.