Sunday, January 14, 2024

Area 2 Farms- Vertical Farming in Arlington

On Friday, Andrew Borocco, Head of Plant Breeding at Area 2Farms spoke to the Potomac Watershed Roundtable virtually. Though after hearing his talk, I’m convinced that the trip to Shirlington to see their operation would be fun.

First, let me tell you a little bit about Area 2 Farms. First of all, right now there is only one farm. It is in the Shirlington neighborhood or Arlington, VA and it is a start up. The concept is that food should be grown within 10 miles of the people who consume it and that it should all be fresh and seasonal. Since most people live in urban areas, the way to accomplish this using a vertical method. In this way the footprint of food could be reduced. Though, truthfully I always thought the carbon footprint of food was due to the energy consumed in moving the inputs- seeds, fertilizer (not in this case), etc. Land clearing is also has a climate impact. 

Vertical farming is seen as another avenue for technological advancement that can spur improvements in yield/ reduction in land need, cropping intensity (the number of crop harvests per year), and protection from pests and pathogens, while reducing nutrient and water usage. Vertical farms either uses  hydroponics or aeroponics systems. “Studies have shown that soil-grown plants exhibit a more diverse and robust microbial community, which plays a crucial role in enhancing plant growth, health, and resilience against pests and diseases” 1.

Vertical farming system can vary in the extent to which the growing environment is controlled. The form of vertical farming practiced by Area 2 Farms is indoors in specifically created soil. That lets them grow without pesticides and herbicides and to control the environment to produce the most nutritious plants.  Area 2 Farms is certified USDA organic; a hydroponic system could not be. Andrew has a Master’s Degree in Plant Breeding and his job is doing just that. He is responsible for plant breeding to optimize the plants to taste good and grow in the shallow bins that Area 2 Farms stacks about a foot apart.

from Area 2 Farms

The soil and it’s structure is an important element of the plant health and taste. The soil created by using coconut husks, Area 2 makes compost from stems and roots that is added to the coconut husks soaked and rinsed in water several times to remove the natural salt, then organic fertilizer is added along with selected bacteria to create a proprietary soil biome. The soil continues to develop with addition over time of inhouse compost created by inhouse worms, stems and roots of the produce.  As soil develops, the plants toughen up and are less delicate.

hybrid sweet potatoes

Andrew makes cross breeding and creation of successful hybrids sound fascinating. He obviously loves his work. I have been a byer of hybrids for my garden, but I had given little thought to the process of creating one. One example he told us about was creating a sweet an delicious pea that would be short enough to fit the stacked totes by combining the tom thumb and royal snap pea. Another example was creating a dwarf tomato hybrid using the delicious green zebra tomato. I also learned that due to heterosis  hybrids tend to be larger, so that it is often necessary to keep planting the F1 generation.

Area 2 Farms sells CSA shares to people who live within 10 miles of their farm building. The shares are 5 items weekly for 10 weeks that are a mix of green, micro greens and shoots, herbs , roots (sweet potatoes etc.) and fruits. You should check them out.

  1. Chiaranunt P, White JF. Plant Beneficial Bacteria and Their Potential Applications in Vertical Farming Systems. Plants (Basel). 2023 Jan 15;12(2):400. doi: 10.3390/plants12020400. PMID: 36679113; PMCID: PMC9861093.

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