As an extension of the local food movement, urban farms using hydroponics (the use of mineral nutrient solutions instead of soil) and grow lamps to maintain plant life in the city is taking off. “People feel a connection to local food,” says Henry Gordon-Smith of Agritecture, which designs urban farms for clients. “Urban agriculture allows that to be as local as possible.”
Locally grown food, then, will be increasingly easier for restaurants to procure. “For certain products like microgreens and leafy greens, it will be almost ridiculous not to source those locally,” Gordon-Smith says.
Right now, hundreds of varieties of rare herbs are being grown indoors for the first time. And, beyond just sourcing produce from these farms, restaurants are starting to build their own systems in which to incubate greens for customer display. Here’s a look at a few companies harnessing the urban farm movement in the New York area.
Location: TriBeCa, Manhattan, New York
Farm size: 1,500 square feet
Farm.One grows plants, edible flowers, microgreens, and rare herbs for restaurants such as Eleven Madison Park, Atera, Marea, Butter, L’ATELIER de Joël Robuchon, and Pizza Loves Emily. The company has grown papalo, an herb which has an unusual grapefruit peel and cilantro–like aroma when broken, as well as Dan Barber's Row 7 Seed Company cucumbers for their yellow flowers and Dragon's Tongue Arugula that has a strong spicy, nutty flavor.
Location: Newark, New Jersey
Farm size: 70,000 square feet
This urban farm produces two million pounds of baby greens per year, as well as herbs and microgreens. The controlled environment is one of Alina Zolotareva’s, RDN and AeroFarms’ senior marketing manager and product champion, favorite things. “We can change the flavor, color, shape, and other characteristics of some of our favorite greens just by tweaking the environment.” For example, the farm’s arugula has an intense pepper flavor, but is also juicy and tender. And the baby kale is so sweet and tender, “you don't even need any dressing for it,” Zolotareva says. The farm’s produce is sold at Whole Foods Market, ShopRite stores, and other local retailers in Newark, and chefs using it include Marcus Samuelsson, David Chang, and Michael Anthony.
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Farm size: 1,500-square-foot headquarters with grow operations distributed throughout New York City and New Jersey
Mushrooms are this company’s mission, as it specializes in 10 different varieties including royal trumpets, lion’s mane, and shiitake. “The coolest thing we're growing right now isn't exactly what we're growing, but where we're growing,” says Andrew Carter, cofounder and CEO. “Presently, we have automated mushroom farms in places like Mission Chinese and Whole Foods, producing anywhere from 30 to 120 pounds of the freshest mushrooms their customers have seen every week, for a reasonable price.” Other restaurants Smallhold works with include Bunker, Agern, and Restaurant Norman. And zero-waste chef Tara Norvell of Okonomi uses every last scrap of the company’s produce to make “the most mind-blowing mazemen and ramen in the city,” Carter says.