Colbeck Capital Discusses the Vertical Farming Renaissance

The city of Newark, New Jersey, is considered one of the major shipping, rail, and air hubs of the region. Unfortunately, it has also acquired a mixed reputation over the years. As citizens increasingly complain about crime, others realize that the city is in a state of transition and opportunity.    

Originally settled in 1666, Newark has evolved alongside its people and their needs. The Brick City has recently enjoyed something few could have seen coming: a farming renaissance driven by technological advancements in vertical gardening. Strategic lender, Colbeck Capital, gives us a look at how this innovation is changing the way we think about farming.

AeroFarms and Aeroponics

Based in Newark, AeroFarms is attempting to change how our nation looks at food production by implementing aeroponic gardening systems that benefit the environment, feed the disadvantaged, and produce minimal environmental concerns. While these ambitions are all noble, some skeptics have trouble taking AeroFarms at their word.

Describing themselves as environmental champions, AeroFarms selected Newark as the headquarters for their vertical farming center due to affordable rent and a large population of potential clients. Their indoor gardening center utilizes 95% less water than food farmed from fields all while boasting a yield of nearly 400x per square foot.

Much AeroFarms’ work, along with the majorty of the industry, owes credit to Dickson Despommier. This educator’s research has come to be revered as revolutionary in the advancement for indoor gardening. Spearheading the trade, he was alone in the early days of his advocacy.     

In 2019, the United States reported more than 2,000 registered vertical farms, an explosion in growth over such a short period of time. The COVID-19 pandemic and corresponding grocery shortages would only further popularize the idea of sustainable, efficient, and healthy crop production.

Understanding Aeroponics

Utilizing a style of soilless growing called aeroponics, the AeroFarms production team begins their plants as seeds swaddled in a soft gauze nestled beneath LED lights. As the root system is coaxed by aeroponic misters and red-and-green lighting, nutrients are released and dissolved into the water. With minimal resistance thanks to the soilless substrate, the root systems have little work to do before consuming vital nutrients.

Growing aeroponically provides cultivators with key benefits and advantages throughout the process. A few of the top highlights include:

●           Increased oxygen in the rhizosphere increases root health

●           Growing under artificial lights increases efficiency

●           Cultivators can enjoy disease-free growth

Vertical Farming: Magic or Mirage?

Despommier first introduced vertical farming while working as a professor of public and environmental health at Columbia University. He worked with his class to develop a skyscraper farm capable of feeding more than 50,000 individuals. The design was never physically created, but the concept served as inspiration for the vertical farming solutions that came afterward.

Vertical farming proposes a wealth of solutions in today’s space-challenged environment. Food production has already turned into one of the most costly and damaging energy expenditures on the planet, accounting for nearly 15% of our greenhouse gas emissions. This number is only expected to rise in the coming years with the population slated to grow by 2.5 billion people by 2050. Colbeck Capital references Despommier’s book, The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st  where he stated “We have become locked into an ancient and outdated system of food production that requires us to use more and more land to address the rising demands of the human population.”

Today’s vertical farming giants, including AeroFarms, are responding with force to the 20th century agricultural practices that seemingly condemned much of our planet’s health. The Green Revolution of the 1960s saw the introduction of vast amounts of chemical fertilizers at a time when mechanized farming was exploding. Decades later, we are starting to understand the harmful health consequences of these choices.

Vertical farming places control back into the hands of those who desire cleaner, healthier, and more natural food. Vertical farmers focus on growing plants without harsh chemical fertilizers and pesticides, relying instead on organic solutions. One vertical farmer points to their collection of ladybugs and wasps as natural pest control experts, “They’re among our most valuable and prized team members.”

Limitations of Vertical Farming

While there are certainly advantages to vertical farming, there are also legitimate concerns. One of the major issues preventing a full-scale embrace of the practice is the energy-intensive nature of the work. Aeroponic gardens that use synthetic lights require lighting for 12-16 hours every day. Add in heating and ventilation expenses, and you have relatively high environmental costs. Colbeck Capital Management also noted that LED efficiency exploded by 50% between 2013-2020, a massive increase that points to real progress. Still, there is a long road ahead. Because of the harsh reality regarding energy expenses, companies like AeroFarms are uniquely focused on growing less energy-intensive crops.

Jason Colodne and Colbeck Capital

Jason Colodne is managing partner and co-founder of Colbeck Capital, where he works as a senior transaction partner overseeing every aspect of investment execution and portfolio management.

In a career spanning over two decades, Colodne’s experience includes managing credit underwriting and investing businesses in the Fixed Income Currencies and Commodities Division at Goldman Sachs as well as the Strategic Finance Division at Morgan Stanley.

Colbeck Capital Management was founded in 2009 by Jason Colodne and Jason Beckman. The company is based in New York City with additional offices in Los Angeles.


Article Editor

Pamela is a television journalist, humor writer and novelist. Her first novel, Allegedly, was released in 2015 by St. Martin’s Press. The book is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. She and her husband, Daniel, have a 3-year-old son, Carter.

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