David Rosenberg founded and leads AeroFarms, which operates the world’s largest vertical farming company, with its primary growing rooms in Newark, New Jersey. He’s a longtime partisan of a “circular economy,” in which re-use and efficiency drives the way we think about just about everything we do.
He’s not satisfied with the world’s progress. He says “Progress towards sustainability is tragically slow. Much slower than it needs to be. We need to move really fast.” Since global warming remains the single biggest environmental challenge, by far, Rosenberg adds that the most important move society needs to make is to create a price for emitting carbon dioxide.
Putting a price on doing the wrong thing, he says, is what can make many societal systems more sustainable. Another example is the use of water—an area where AeroFarms by design is dramatically more efficient than traditional farming. The point, says Rosenberg, is not to put “good actors at an economic disadvantage.”
He says it’s extremely complicated technologically to optimize the lighting, plant nutrients, and the back-end software that runs these giant clean-food factories. “But the macro economics are in the industry’s favor,” he says. “In vertical farming, technology can reduce both the capital expenditures and operating expenditures.” During the pandemic, though, the company’s packaging lines, where fresh greens are packaged for customers that include Whole Foods and other major grocers, had to be redesigned so workers could practice social distancing. That initially caused production to drop by half, though refinements allowed it to rebound.
But two pandemic developments increased demand for the company’s greens this year. They’re grown with no pesticides, in dramatic contrast to most outdoor-grown produce, including many organics (which often use organic pesticides). As concerns about health soared this year, so did demand for provably-healthy products. In addition, there’s been a big increase in interest in local production and sourcing. “We enable local food security, at scale,” says Rosenberg, proudly.