New York may be at the forefront of the urban and rooftop gardening trends. But Gotham Greens is a whole different story. The 15,000-square-foot greenhouse on the roof of a Greenpoint building produces vegetables and fresh herbs using a hydroponic growing system. In other words, it uses no soil whatsoever. The plants are grown in water and fed with a nutrient-rich solution. According to the company’s founder, Viraj Puri, it’s a form of agriculture that allows for very high yields and unparalleled consistency in crop quality. Here are some other things you might not know about hydroponics:
- Hydroponics is not just for growing pot. Yes, marijuana was probably the first hydroponic crop you ever encountered (hey, we’re not saying you inhaled). But achieving stellar highs isn’t the only use of the agricultural system. And, in case you’re wondering, Puri didn’t start out as weed grower. He swears.
- Hydroponics is more productive than conventional agriculture. Gotham Greens’ existing facility is capable of producing a hundred tons a year. At about a third of an acre in size, Puri estimates that it’s equivalent to six or seven acres out in the field. Conventional farms have maybe up to five crop turns per year. Gotham can do 12 or 13.
- Hydroponics allows you to control the flavor and nutritional value of your produce. “We really take good care of the crops, making sure that they get all the right nutrients,” says Puri. But his team is also able to adjust the nutrients plants receive based on preference. To control the level of sweetness in lettuce, say, you might introduce a little more potassium to the growing solution. Or you might opt to adjust the level of magnesium or calcium, based on the desired effect.
- Hydroponics could mean the end of seasonal eating. Growing in this controlled environment allows Puri and his team to keep up a consistent supply 365 days a year. And, while its produce is hyper-locavoric (as Puri says, lettuce can be picked by breakfast and on your plate at lunch), seasonality doesn’t come into play. Gotham grows salads greens and fresh herbs year-round. And Puri says the technique could be used to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, eggplant and strawberries as well.
- You may already be eating hydroponically grown foods. Gotham Greens is currently distributing its produce through Whole Foods, Fresh Direct, Union Market, D’Agostino and several smaller supermarkets. It also services Gramercy Tavern and a few other restaurants.
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