Rob Laing

Farm.One

Rob Laing
Farm.One

Farm.One is an indoor, artificially-lit, hydroponic farm for rare herbs and greens, located in the middle of Manhattan's Financial District.

Rare

The Santa Monica farmer's market is in the middle of one of the most fertile areas of land in North America, Southern California. In one city block you can find an amazing range of produce: Finger limes, five different kinds of persimmons, papalo, wild fennel and much much more. It's a feast for the senses to see, smell, touch and taste new plants you've never come across.

But here's the thing: You might go one week and find a food you love, then come back the next and it’s disappeared. It might be out of season, the crop might have failed, the grower might not be at the market, or all manner of other things have happened. Going to any farmer’s market is an adventure because you never really know what's going to be available.

Local

Rightly, chefs and foodies respect this kind of seasonality. Seasonal often really means local, in that you're buying a plant that has been freshly picked, that's been grown by someone you can name, and your selection of produce is based on what's around you. Compared to the mega delivery chain of supermarkets and international farming, it's how our relationship to food should be.

Red Shiso, Micro Beets. Grown at Farm.One.

Red Shiso, Micro Beets. Grown at Farm.One.

Fresh

Restaurants like Noma and Attica have demonstrated how it's possible to find a more delightful and satisfying selection of food if you look closer to home rather than farther afield. In a world where quite often the basil you pick off a supermarket shelf has been flown in from a thousand miles away, and picked more than six or seven days before, local is special. Local means fresh, it means more flavorsome.

But there's also a reality of city living: That we live densely-packed, we enjoy a 24-hour metropolis, an ability to get hold of any food, any time. We expect to be able to get on a flight from Tokyo to Paris and eat a fresh salad on-board. If we're in the mood for a taco anywhere in London, it's just twenty minutes away. One can fight against that, but as Brian Eno said about the changing face of the music industry, "You're just like an old guy yelling at fast trains".

So how do you bring that sense of adventure and discovery, the freshness of the market, the rare and unusual produce, and the care for the produce, to the big city? How do you make it possible for chefs to reliably get high-quality local produce year-round? Until now it's only been possible by shipping produce a long distance, which is bad for the planet and bad for the plants.

As a technology guy who loves food, I wanted to solve this problem. After radically changing what I eat a few years ago to emphasize fresh, whole, plant-based foods, learning to cook raw food next to chefs in Thailand and California, and learning more and more about our food supply chain, I was intrigued.

Visitors including Thomas Keller, Bryce Shuman, Daniel Boulud, Shane Hergatt

Visitors including Thomas Keller, Bryce Shuman, Daniel Boulud, Shane Hergatt

Farm.One

My solution is Farm.One. An indoor “vertical” farm located in the middle of new York, growing rare herbs and greens under LED lights. We are right in the middle of the city, so we can cut, pack and deliver to our customers within just a few hours.

We grow in a completely controlled environment primarily using hydroponics*. In this indoor, LED-lit farm within climate modules, we can control humidity, CO2, hours of light, even the airspeed of a gentle breeze caressing a plant's leaves, aiding transpiration. We can monitor the condition of every single plant with webcams. We can track the progress of crops and grow in a completely agile fashion in multiple different climates.

Because of the way we've built our farm, we can completely exclude any pests while growing, to a degree impossible in a traditional greenhouse. Which means no pesticides. Which means being able to grow crops that are fragile, fussy and delicate. We can grow crops that need a different temperature at infancy than at maturity. Potentially we can even mimic a low altitude. We can create our own terroir.

Additionally, we can grow crops that do not require washing either at our farm or at home or in a restaurant, because they are grown completely clean. Finally, no animal products are used whatsoever.

Boys on the farm.

Boys on the farm.

Because we are local, our delivery time can be so short that bacterial growth in the delivery chain can be almost eliminated (this is a significant reason for bacteria on plants that travel long distances over many days to your supermarket). So you are getting not only a fresher, better tasting plant, but the risk of bugs is lower.

I hope as you follow us along, we’ll achieve something new and interesting, and build a strong, profitable company that can make the world a little bit more special.

Principles for Farm.One

  • To grow for rarity and delight.
  • To grow for flavor and nutrition.
  • To grow a stone's throw from where we eat.
  • To grow pure; GMO, contaminant and pesticide-free.
  • To grow plants with the same care that we plate dishes.
  • To grow for chefs, on-demand, year-round.

* A note about hydroponics...
There's a misconception that the taste of hydroponically-grown produce is inferior. The truth is much simpler: If you choose common varieties and grow purely for appearance and yield, you will get fat, lazy, bland and boring plants whether you grow hydroponically or in soil. If instead you choose varieties and cultivars for the best flavor, and grow to maximize that flavor, hydroponics will achieve the same quality or better than growing from soil. The beneficial bacteria in the soil that is sometimes referenced seems to aid in nutrient absorption but not flavor improvement. And a number of studies now have shown equivalent or improved nutrition from hydroponically-grown produce over conventional agriculture.