Given the high arable land in New Jersey and many of the state’s urban areas known as “food deserts” due to their limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables, vertical farming is a process of growing crops indoors in vertically stacked layers Becoming highly controlled environments – have become increasingly popular and represent a ray of hope on the Garden State’s agricultural horizon.

AeroFarm’s Newark-based vertical farm grows in vertically stacked layers in a highly controlled environment. Photo courtesy of AeroFarms

Newark-based AeroFarms has been a leader in the industry since it converted a 75-year-old 70,000-square-foot steel mill in Brick City into the world’s largest vertical indoor farm (soon to be the second largest in the world) when AeroFarms started construction in 2015 its new 140,000-square-foot vertical farm in Danville, Virginia.). Growing a range of fruits, vegetables, and vegetables without sun or soil in a fully controlled indoor climate using a patented aeroponic growing system for faster harvest cycles, predictable results, superior food safety, and lower environmental impact is reportedly up to 30% 390 times higher per Square feet than conventional agriculture.

AeroFarms is making headlines again after announcing a multi-year partnership with Chilean company Hortifrut, a global leader in blueberry production, to jointly research and develop blueberry and sugarcane production in fully controlled indoor and vertical farms. The move is expected to spur the production of next-generation commercial blueberries and sugarcane berries in vertical farms.

David Rosenberg, CEO and Co-Founder of AeroFarms. Photo courtesy of AeroFarms

An optimal fit

“AeroFarms’ mission is to grow the best possible crops for the betterment of humankind by taking agriculture to a new level with the latest technology, innovation and understanding of plant science,” said David Rosenberg, CEO and Co-Founder of AeroFarms. “Our partnership with Hortifrut will allow us to identify and optimize blueberry and sugarcane plants for indoor growing, thereby accelerating the learning and scaling of the production of these types of plants.”

Rosenberg said the two companies are a perfect match, noting that “AeroFarms and Hortifrut are both Certified B Corps. with transparent scorecards on how we behave across both environmental and social factors, as well as shared values ​​on how companies can be a driving force. “

Rosenberg added that the first phase of their partnership is already underway. Blueberry plants arrive at AeroFarms’ global headquarters in Newark this spring, which now has 100,000 square feet of vertical agricultural space for R&D and commercial production.

“We have grown over 50 different strawberry varieties over the years and achieved Brix values ​​for sweetness that are roughly twice the industry average. We knew we could expand this know-how to other berries,” said Rosenberg on AeroFarms’ decision to expand into blueberry production. “New Jersey has a rich history of blueberries dating back to 1910 when blueberries were first domesticated, and we are delighted that over a century later AeroFarms and Hortifrut will be driving the next chapter in blueberry production by domesticated them back in New Jersey – this time in a fully controlled environment. “

Juan Ignacio Allende, CEO of Hortifrut, said the partnership is also the next logical step in the development of his company.

“Since our foundation, Hortifrut has always had“ innovation ”as one of its most important strategic tasks in the entire value chain. We believe that our partnership with AeroFarms will allow us to develop a new model for sourcing blueberries and sugarcane berries that is responsive to the latest consumer trends, ”said Allende. “We have grown fruit closer and closer to our markets over time, but this opportunity should allow us to grow everywhere and to a growing audience of consumers who don’t just care about their products, healthier, fresher, higher quality and more sustainable ones Berries deliver personal health, but also the health of the planet. “

Juan Ignacio Allende, CEO of Hortifrut. Photo courtesy of AeroFarms

A significant step forward

Allende said he was not concerned that vertical farming could cannibalize the sale of Hortifruts traditionally grown produce.

“We believe conventionally grown berries will continue to exist and will continue to make up a large part of the supply in the more traditional segments of the market,” he said. At the same time, “this step forward is likely to put pressure on conventional farmers to grow better quality berries, use better genetics, and use more sustainable cultivation techniques.” He suspects that the blueberry and sugarcane market will likely differ on two levels – conventional and vertically mounted options.

“Our teams are focused on delivering the tastiest, most nutritious, freshest blueberries to consumers anytime, anywhere. We look forward to a long term partnership with Hortifrut to formulate the commercialization of blueberries and sugarcane berries in vertical farms worldwide, ”said Rosenberg of AeroFarms.

“We are confident that we will learn a lot from this new partnership,” agreed Allende. “The technical knowledge and science behind this way of growing berries will be enormous, so we can develop a completely different way of serving global markets in the near future.”

For more information, please contact AeroFarms at www.aerofarms.com or Hortifrut at www.hortifrut.com.

A long time NJ Advance Media / Star Ledger writer Susan Bloom is an award-winning New Jersey writer covering topics from health and lifestyle to business, food, and more.