Lisa Newman, COO of Newark-based AeroFarms, always starts her day by checking on her plants. “I’m a grower first and foremost,” she says, “a modern farmer.” But her work as a high-tech startup leader is her second order of business.
Every day, between 9AM and 10AM, Newman is in an operations meeting with every division at “the farm”—engineering, research and development, construction, and human resources. Then she spends the rest of her day working and meeting with her teams individually, not leaving the farm until 6:30PM or 7PM.
“My schedule never goes as I have it planned,” Newman says. “In a startup, you wear a lot of different hats.”
Before joining AeroFarms, Newman worked at Dupont Pioneer for 13 years, researching automated software systems and imaging technology. Her experience inspired her to bring that technology to agriculture.
The plants at the Newark AeroFarms facility—the crops grown on the farm, if you will—are grown aeroponically and surveyed by different imaging systems—from closed-circuit cameras to multi-spectral images.
In aeroponic farming, plants are grown on cloth with their roots floating underneath so growers need only apply a mist of water to them. This method uses less land and less water than both traditional field farming and even hydroponic farming, which also doesn’t require soil but uses a nutrient-rich water solution. Aeroponic farming is the perfect way to grow fresh food in urban areas.
“Our whole business model is creating urban farms in underserved communities and providing good jobs,” Newman says.
AeroFarms, a clean-technology company that builds and operates advanced vertical farms in urban environments, was founded in 2004 in upstate New York. The company moved into Newark in 2011 and opened its third facility there in 2017. AeroFarms currently operates three facilities in the state of New Jersey.
Over the next few years, Newman hopes to share this technology they are developing in Newark with urban farms across America and around the world. She’s hoping to grow more kinds of produce and waste none of it—even the parts of the plants that are typically thrown away. Leading the way in zero-waste will keep AeroFarms at the forefront of sustainable farming.
“We are the leaders in the industry,” Newman remarks.
AeroFarms’ greens are available at Whole Foods Markets and ShopRite stores in various New Jersey neighborhoods, including right here on Broad Street and Springfield Avenue, respectively.
Their baby greens make a tasty salad for lunch or a side dish for dinner. “The stems can be used for pestos and juices,” Newman adds. All from healthy greens grown in Newark using the future of farming.