Urban farming flourishes in New York

The Tesla Gigafactory is shown under construction outside Reno, Nevada, in this May 9, 2015 file photo. (Reuters)
Updated 01 May 2017

Urban farming flourishes in New York

NEW YORK: The urban farm craze is finding fertile ground in New York, where 10 young entrepreneurs are learning to grow greens and herbs without soil, bathed in an indoor, psychedelic light.
“It is not just another Brooklyn hipster thing. There is no doubt the local real-food movement is a mega-trend,” says Tobias Peggs, one of the co-founders, a 45-year-old from Britain who previously worked in software.
“If you are 20 today, food is bigger than the Internet was 20 years ago when we got on it,” he adds. “Consumers want trust, they want to know their farmers.” He set up Square Roots with Kimbal Musk, brother of Tesla Motors billionaire Elon and they have been training 10 recruits since November.
Already well-established in parts of Europe — the Netherlands in particular — the technology is still being pioneered in the US.
The greens are reared in an entirely closed and artificial environment that can be completely controlled, grown vertically and irrigated by a hydroponic system that feeds them water mixed with minerals and nutrients.
Wylie Goodman, a graduate student finishing a dissertation on urban farming at Cornell University, said that the US financial capital was a captive market for the innovations.
“It makes total sense,” she said. “You have got a well-educated and wealthy population willing to pay a lot for good local food” — in this case, $7 per single pack of fresh greens delivered to your door.
New York and its environs have seen constant innovation in urban agriculture from rooftop gardens to the huge AeroFarm complex in neighboring Newark and Gotham Greens.
Halfway through his year-long apprenticeship, Peggs said that the 10 young entrepreneurs had already learned how to grow food customers want to buy. The next stage will begin within a year, he said, with the creation of “campuses” capable of producing greens — similar to the one in Brooklyn — in other large US cities before the initiative rolls out “everywhere.”
His enthusiasm is contagious. Around 100 people who took part in a guided tour of the farm this week, were for the most part not only willing to shop the greens but also appeared to be mulling over setting up something similar.
But there are downsides to the business model. If indoor farms can be adapted to grow strawberries and blueberries, “no one with a background in agriculture” thinks they will replace traditional, soil-based farms, Goodman says.
Moreover, products with a denser biomass, such as cereals or beets, are out of reach for the moment. “If I grew beets, I would have to sell it for $50 a head,” Peggs joked.
The working conditions are also an issue.
“Do you really want to work in an enclosed, glowing environment?” Goodman asked.
Besides, the lighting is too expensive and cultivation spaces at a reasonable cost too few, at least for now.


SABIC eyes methanol plant in Russia’s far east

Updated 2 min 54 sec ago

SABIC eyes methanol plant in Russia’s far east

  • SABIC has signed an initial agreement to build and operate a methanol plant in Russia’s far east
  • The installed capacity of the proposed plant in the Amur Region is expected to be up to two-million tons of methanol

LONDON: SABIC has signed an initial agreement with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and ESN Group, to build and operate a methanol plant in the country’s far east.
The deal was struck on the sidelines of the Russian President’s visit to the Kingdom.
The installed capacity of the proposed plant in the Amur Region is expected to be up to two-million tons of methanol.
“This is an important milestone in our global growth strategy, which is formulated around competitive feedstock and capacity to innovate and plan strategically,” said Yousef Al-Benyan, SABIC Vice Chairman and CEO.
“We plan to maintain our strategic partnership with the Russian market by continuing to focus on meeting customer needs, increasing our key customer base, and growing our commercial operation.”
Riyadh-headquartered SABIC is the region’s biggest petrochemical company with operations worldwide. It has been rapidly expanding its global footprint over the last year as it pushes into new markets and higher value products.