AeroFarms COO Lisa Newman Feeds On Technology

AeroFarms COO Lisa Newman Feeds On Technology

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. 

Fencing Led Student to NJIT

Fencing Led Student to NJIT

Name: Julia Garcia
Age: 21
Hometown: Madrid, Spain
School: NJIT
Major: Finance
Graduation Date: May 2018
Favorite Local Spot: Intrinsic coffee shop
Post-graduation Plans: To work for Goldman Sachs in Salt Lake City, Utah

Julia Garcia moved across an ocean when she was 17 years old. A senior at NJIT, Julia hails from Madrid, Spain. She wasn’t afraid of the move because she knew that something wonderful was waiting for her on the other side: the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Out of several U.S. schools, Julia picked NJIT for two very specific reasons.

From Spain to Newark

I REALLY LIKED FENCING. I figured, at some point, I was going to decide to pursue my athletic career and study, both at the same time. And the place where I had the most possibility was the U.S.,” she says.

At the time that Julia was applying to universities, NJIT had just introduced a fencing program to give its students the opportunity to compete in the combat sport. Based on old-fashioned sword play, the competitions are fierce and many  students train for years to rise through the fencing community, both in Europe and in the U.S.

MY COACH WAS AMAZING AND I made so many friends,” Julia says. “I was never really scared or intimidated.”

Between her sport and a tough major in finance, Julia spent most of her time on NJIT’s campus—in the new financial lab in particular. Outside of fencing, Julia was the president of the student group that manages NJIT’s Investment Fund. With her finance major and a minor in information systems, she was able to line up a job at Goldman Sachs’ Salt Lake City location. She moved there after graduating in May.

“I’m not going to be focusing on ­fencing anymore,” she says. “I have to grow up sometime, right? But I will miss the people. The people here are just ­really welcoming. And since I came here, I feel like it was my second home.”

What else will Julia miss about Newark? “The coffee shop Intrinsic,” she says. “It’s just the best coffee shop, ever.”

Food Around the Wards: Great Salads

Food Around the Wards: Great Salads

For many, the word salad conjures images of bowls of crisp green freshness tossed with any combination of more flavorful freshness. And while green salads will always be a mainstay in the salad category, gone are the days when a salad was considered diet food.

If you break it down, a salad is any delicious combination of meats, fruits, vegetables, and pastas that make for good eating! Here’s where you can find some of the best specialty entree salads in the city.

If you have a hankering for a seafood salad…

Allegro Seafood Grill
58 Kossuth Street
(973) 344-4500

Stop by Allegro Seafood Grill for their Salada de Polvo (Octopus salad) or some Salada de Buzios do Mediterraneo (Conch salad in Vinaigrette Dressing). Expand your appreciation of octopus outside of calamari. And when’s the last time you had some conch without having to board a plane?

If you’ve got a taste for a hearty pasta salad…

Andros Diner
6 Wilson Avenue
(973) 344-2626

Andros Diner will hook you right up with their Mediterranean Spinach Pasta Salad. It’s made with penne, baby spinach, tomatoes, onions, olives, cucumbers, roasted red peppers and fresh mozzarella. Balsamic vinaigrette dressing served on the side.

If you want to keep things light with a fruit salad…

Sweet & Green Café
61 Halsey Street
(973) 732-5869

Try one of the fruit bowls at Sweet & Green Café. In addition to granola, sliced coconut and banana, the Lychee Valentine Kale Bowl contains lychee, edible rose petals, strawberry and honey. The Island Beach Coconut Bowl has vanilla protein, mango, pineapple and honey. And the Coco Acai Bowl contains chocolate protein, mango, pineapple and Nutella.

If you like some protein (aka meat) in your salad…

Tops Diner
500 Passaic Avenue, Harrison, NJ
(973) 481.0490

How about the Jamaican Jerk Chicken Salad with black beans, corn, tomatoes, feta cheese, cucumbers and quinoa in a house vinaigrette dressing at Tops Diner? There’s also the Steak House Salad with romaine hearts, tomato, crumbled bleu cheese and tobacco onions, served with Ranch dressing

NICO’s Ancient Grain Salad

When creating a summer salad for modern tastes and appeal, Andrew Watterson, executive chef at NICO Kitchen + Bar at NJPAC, looks to “ancient” grains for inspiration.

Watterson, who has a background in French cooking, uses red quinoa as the centerpiece of his Ancient Grain Salad. He tosses the quinoa with shaved Brussels sprouts, baby kale, feta cheese, pine nuts and cherry tomatoes, and bathes everything lightly in an herb vinaigrette.

How to prepare quinoa for the Ancient Grain Salad:

1 carrot, peeled
1/2 onion, peeled
1 celery stalk
1 bay leaf
1 cup red quinoa
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock, seasoned lightly with salt and pepper

Rinse quinoa well with cold water in a mesh colander. Add all ingredients to a sauce pot and simmer until quinoa is tender. Cool on a sheet tray, remove vegetables.

Chef Watterson’s Herb Vinaigrette:

1/2 cup champagne vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs
(parsley, chervil, tarragon, chives)
1 minced shallot
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Add all ingredients except oil to a blender and pulse fine. With blender running on low, slowly drizzle in oil until emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Food Around the Wards: Staff Choice

Food Around the Wards: Staff Choice

Destination Newark staff talk about some of their favorite culinary experiences

Editor’s Choice

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to visit Marcus Samuelsson’s new restaurant in the Hahne & Co building, Marcus B&P. Marcus B&P was named for the Swedish concept of “back pocket”—a place to hang out with family and friends. And that’s exactly why I went. I thought the restaurant’s Sunday jazz brunch would be the perfect setting for catching up with good friends and eating good food.

I was not disappointed. A small to mid-sized space with rustic trappings, a visit to B&P is a sensory feast. The tall bar covered/topped with white tile is one of the first things that catches your attention. You’ll also notice the eclectic art that covers the walls in the dining room. One of my favorite features was the collection of LP covers that adorned the walls in one of the bathrooms.

On Sundays, hungry patrons are welcomed by a couple of jazz musicians set up in an intimate space at the front of the restaurant. They set the mood and create a sophisticated atmosphere with music that is both a focal point as well as ambience.

The food—Southern soul food with a sophisticated twist—is as artfully arranged as it is delicious. I had the shrimp and grits, and the cornbread is worth fighting over. On our table was also several plates of chicken and waffles and a personal pizza.

A gathering of friends is always a good time. But it becomes a great time with warm, attentive service; comfortable surroundings; delicious food; and an atmosphere accentuated by the stylings of live jazz musicians. A return visit is definitely in order.  ~Sonja Mack

Publisher’s Choice

Traditional Pick

For just down home good food, good ­company and general comfort, I pick Vonda’s Kitchen. We featured Vonda’s last summer so I wanted to be original but the truth is I have probably patronized Vonda’s more than any other sit down restaurant in the City.

The fish and grits is always a win. And when I have a big appetite the mac ‘n’ cheese and collard greens are tasty sides too. The chef is always pleasant. And on good days I may even get to have a sighting of the owner, Vonda McPherson. Go see and taste for yourself! Vonda’s Kitchen, 183 W. Kinney St.,

Publisher’s Non-traditional Pick

My Non-traditional pick would be Carmen’s restaurants. Most of you reading probably don’t know where this is unless you work in City Hall. And since I frequent Newark City Hall a lot, I’m a big fan. I’ve been ordering takeout lunch from Carmen’s for more than a decade.

This quant office-building café is downtown’s best kept secret. Or I should say, one of City Hall’s best kept secrets since no one advertises that it is down there on the basement level. But City Hall is open to the public, so if you are ever up for a BLT or some grilled chicken with rice and beans that actually has some flavor, try Carmen’s restaurant at City Hall, 920 Broad Street, Newark NJ ­(Basement level). ~Sakina Cole

Food Around the Wards

Food Around the Wards

Nowhere is Newark’s cultural diversity more evident than in its food. The 300+ restaurants in the city—be they delis, take-out spots, or sit-down establishments—reflect the ethnic mix of its more than 280,000 residents.

When Newark was being established and throughout its growth, different sections of the city were characterized by the ethnic group that settled there. According to, from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, the Jewish population began to grow in the Central Ward, while Portuguese and Spanish immigrants began to arrive in the Ironbound section. The West Ward was primarily occupied by Polish, Italian, Irish, and German immigrants, and later transitioned into an area comprised of Caribbean Americans. As such, the eateries in the Ironbound/East Ward were mainly Portuguese and Spanish, while Jewish delis proliferated throughout the Central and South Wards. Italian restaurants sprang up in the North Ward and Caribbean establishments became popular in the West Ward.

But in recent years, Newark has undergone massive economic, social and residential development, and the ethnic and cultural lines throughout the wards are becoming a bit more blurred. This, too, has been reflected in the city’s eating establishments.

While certain parts of Newark have become traditionally associated with certain foods, non-traditional eateries and establishments have moved into many neighborhoods, only enhances the city’s culinary diversity.

Here are our Traditional and Non-traditional picks:

East Ward Traditional Pick

Fornos of Spain
47 Ferry Street
(973) 589-4767 |

An award-winning restaurant specializing in Spanish cuisine and seafood, Fornos is always packed whether you are looking for lunch or dinner. If you’ve got a taste for some authentic paella or mariscada, you won’t be disappointed here.

East Ward Non-Traditional Pick

Krug’s Tavern
118 Wilson Ave
(973) 465-9795 |

Newarkers rave about the burgers at Krug’s Tavern—and they’re not the only ones. In 2015, Krug’s Tavern won “New Jersey’s Best Burger” contest over nine other contenders, and their reputation is holding strong. Krug’s has an extensive list of heavy appetizers and a selection of oversized hot and cold sandwiches that, of course, pair deliciously with your favorite brew.

West Ward Traditional Pick

People’s Choice Lounge
105 Hartford St
(973) 622-9441

This intimate little lounge serves up delicious West Indian food and good times. Stop in for lunch and come back for the popular Happy Hour. Stay for dinner or even later for the music and vibes. This family-owned establishment stays involved in the community, supporting local events and even hosting post-event brunches.

West Ward Non-Traditional Pick

Blueberry Café Juice Bar and Vegan Grille
547 Central Avenue
(973) 732-1711 |

With a mission to promote healthy eating in urban communities, Blueberry Café serves fresh smoothies, soups, salads, herbal teas and more. Try the fried zucchini patties or the mushroom pie when you need a snack. Blueberry Café also provides vegan meal planning as a service.

Central Ward Traditional Pick

Hobby’s Delicatessen and Restaurant
32 Branford Place
(973) 623-0410 |

The Brummer family has run this Old-World Jewish deli since the 1960s. Offering top quality Eastern European delicacies, Hobby’s still pickles its own corned beef and all of its soups are homemade. The deli caters food for occasions large and small, including sandwich and dessert platters, hot buffets and appetizers, and breakfast buffets.

Central Ward Non-Traditional Pick

The Halal Guys Gyro and Chicken
72 Halsey Street
(973) 877-3759 |

Starting out with a food truck in New York City, The Halal Guys grew their business into a franchise that has expanded throughout the U.S. and internationally. In Newark, they serve Middle Eastern/Mediterranean style cuisine. Their specialty is the combo platter, a combination of chicken and gyro.

North Ward Traditional Pick

Luigi’s Italian Restaurant
561 Bloomfield Avenue
(973) 481-9696 |

This family-owned Italian restaurant is open seven days a week and hosts intimate gatherings as well as large parties of up to 45 people. With fresh pasta and homemade sauces, Luigi’s serves everything from small plates to family-sized meals. The restaurant’s authentic Italian experience goes beyond food with its décor and ambience, and its catering menu is just as robust as its in-restaurant menu.

North Ward Non-Traditional Pick

El Criollo
99 Broadway
(973) 485-5333  |

With the large influx of Latinos in the north ward since the early 1900s, its hard to believe that a Spanish cuisine restaurant would classify as non-traditional. But El Criollo, which opened in 1986 is a full-service Latin American Restaurant. Popular on the menu is the veal meatballs and the mariscos (shellfish/seafood). Customers can sit down and eat, get take-out, and have food catered. Just as much a gathering place as a restaurant, El Criollo has a popular happy hour and is a lounge and a sports bar.

South Ward Traditional Pick

Bragman’s Delicatessen and Restaurant
393 Hawthorne Avenue
(973) 375-9868 |

Family-owned since the 1950s, Bragman’s deli is known for its oversized hot and cold sandwiches made with extra meat served between two slices of Jewish rye bread. It has also been praised for its brisket and roast beef in gravy. The deli’s catering menu includes regular sandwich platters as well as smaller tea sandwich platters, and its combination sandwiches are served with homemade Russian dressing and coleslaw.

South Ward Non-Traditional Pick

Kings Family Restaurant & Catering
557 Clinton Avenue
(973) 396-2963 |

327 Lyons Avenue
(973) 926-2177 |

Kings opened in the early 1990s as a neighborhood restaurant and now boasts two locations in the South ward and has a robust catering division. A Halal restaurant specializing in Southern food like fish and grits, meatloaf and baked mac and cheese, Kings prides itself on providing big portions at an affordable price. Come for breakfast, which is served all day, as well as lunch and dinner.

Hotel Indigo Developer is Hands-on

Hotel Indigo Developer is Hands-on

SAMER HANINI IS NOT your average hotel developer. He answers his cell phone, and you may just pass him while casually walking down Broad Street near his latest hotel development, Hotel Indigo.

Samer Hanini and his brothers, Amer and Thafer, formed their real estate company, Hanini Group, in 2004 and bought their first building on Newark’s Washington Street that year. Since then, they’ve restored and rehabbed more than $300 million worth of real estate, and built high caliber, loft-style, residential, retail, and corporate spaces, many in Newark’s downtown area.

Samer says his company’s success is due to its dedication to the community and “sweat equity”—personally putting in the work to move his projects forward. Whether it’s redrawing financial models 30 times in one night or creating architectural plans—and then executing them—Hanini never shies away from hard work.

The Hanini brothers grew up in Jersey City. Samer graduated from NJIT here in Newark and his brother, Thafer, graduated from Rutgers. “My mom is a teacher and my dad owned a deli. We come from a neighborhood family,” he explained.

Hanini’s parents also owned a small building in Jersey City and, as young men, the brothers did repairs for the tenants and took out the trash. So when they started ­buying buildings, they “knew a little about real estate,” Samer said, “but mostly the handyman stuff.” So why didn’t they become contractors instead of real estate developers? “We enjoyed more of the deal making side, trying to make something out of nothing. We liked the whole concept of creating value.”

The brothers bought their first building at an auction in Newark. “I don’t want to say it was dumb luck, but we weren’t that savvy back then,” Hanini revealed. They poured hours of their own labor into the building—and it paid off nicely. The high-quality work on that first building set the standard for what they could show to future investors. They used their investment capital to start buying and developing properties on ­Market Street.

“This whole process has been a learning experience,” Hanini said. “Every year we learn something new.”

The future looks promising for Hanini if his present work and success is any indication. Consider one of their most recent masterpieces—Hotel Indigo. A tall, slender, historical building on Broad Street, Hotel Indigo was originally built to be a residential building. But the city saw the need for a hotel close to Prudential Arena and Hanini Group was ready to take it on.

“Doing a historical restoration is a lot more challenging,” Hanini said. “But all the buildings we do have sat vacant for 30 or 40 years.”

The Haninis’ meticulous, hands-on approach has been key to the successful completion of similar projects in Passaic, NJ, and Brooklyn, NY. “Now we’re in the process of putting more work into Newark,” he continued. “We’re currently focused on two projects: converting St. Michael’s Hospital into a mixed use building and converting the Maple Avenue School into apartments.”

Hanini recognizes that Newark is a great place to build. Many of their projects stem from public/private partnerships. But Hanini and his brothers know that the key to Newark’s longevity and prosperity is its residents.

“Newark has a tremendous amount of infrastructure—the airport, the building stock. But the people are an amazing asset, too,” Hanini said. “It’s the local residents that see Newark through the rough patches.” 

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