Farm.One 's beautifully curated Instagram caught my eye a while back along with this buzz word "hydroponics". What on earth is hydroponics and what does it have to do with a farm? A thorough Google research resulted in too many big words and a lot of confusion, so I decided to visit Farm.One myself and get straight to the source of my curiosity. I entered the lobby of the Institute of Culinary Education for my tour with Farm.One founder, Robert Laing, and literally had no idea what to expect.
An hour later, I learned how this method of using water, nutrients, and light in an indoor space can produce some of the freshest plants I've ever tasted. With a package of basil and shiso in my hand and the buzzing sensation of toothache plant still on my tongue, I left Farm.One so excited by the art of hydroponic farming and an exotic herb tasting I won't forget. #itsplantporn
IPP: WHAT IS HYDROPONIC FARMING ?
RL: Hydroponics uses water and a nutrient solution in water to feed the plants. Nothing is in soil. We use a lot of rock wool here, which is made out of stone and spun like cotton candy into a form that the plant can sit in. The roots can go down but the nutrients actually come from the water. Most hydroponic systems bubble lots of air in the water or they flow the water out and in. Everything at Farm.One is grown from seed.
The point of using hydroponics here is to have an indoor climate that could be the same year round. Right now, New York state is great for produce and the farmer's market is bursting, but in the middle of winter there isn't anything available. So people will ship basil from Israel or Mexico when actually they can get it here through this method. It is very efficient! The plant is getting everything it needs and it grows so fast . There’s no pesticides, additives, or pollution. We’re about 20 minutes away from most restaurants in New York City so it really changes the game! We deliver with bikes and a backpack or people pick up.
IPP:HOW DID FARM.ONE COME ABOUT?
RL: I’m from a design/ tech background. I founded a start-up in Japan for 8 years and I loved it but I wanted to live in the US and knew I wanted to do something with food. So I did a bunch of courses all to do with plants in Thailand and LA. In both places I was kind of struck by how you can get really great Thai flavors in Thailand but not Italian, for example. And in Los Angeles you can get great Mexican products but maybe 3 weeks later its gone because the seasons change. I knew I wanted to live in New York where it’s like the worst climate of all – extreme in both the winter and summer. I thought wouldn’t it be cool if we could grow this stuff year round. So I really started doing a lot of research at the end of last year and looking into what technology was out there. There really wasnt anyone doing a small range of plants indoors with hydroponics so I wanted to figure it all out.
"WE LIKE TO TRY AND GROW STUFF THAT IS RARE, UNUSUAL, PEOPLE HAVEN’T NORMALLY HEARD OF BEFORE, THAT DOESN’T GROW IN NEW YORK STATE OR THIS TIME OF YEAR."
I was looking for a space for the farm and coincidentally when ICE moved downtown they decided they wanted a farm in their location as well. So they built a little room and there was some extra space. Originally there wasn’t anyone full-time to look after the farm. They were kind of expecting a student to do that but they wanted someone to look after it with more time. So we came in and put our equipment in there. On the right hand side, the equipment grows food for the classes [at ICE] so students can use them. On the left hand side we have the germinator which grows for everything. Then there’s the Farm.One equipment used for commercial purposes, mainly for chefs to get rare, organic to order/ custom products for their restaurants. The room is a self-contained environment; its on a different HVAC system, and on a different climate. We have slightly positive pressure so the air is pushing out a little to help stop pests from coming in.