(Photo by Jason Sherman)
The owners of Metropolis Farms grow fresh produce year around in a small warehouse in South Philly.
The smell of basil fills the room as produce is grown sustainably with recycled water, special lights and coconut board. The second-floor, vertical farm yields as much produce as an immense outdoor farm. The secret?
“The innovation here is density, as well as energy and water conservation,” said Metropolis Farms President Jack Griffin. “We can grow more food in less space using less energy and water. The result is that I can replace 44,000 square feet with 36 square feet. When you hear those numbers, it kind of makes sense.”
What’s great about indoor farming is avoiding the elements. Harsh sun, pollution and bugs are a big issue in outdoor farming. The few bugs Metropolis gets are counteracted by the carnivorous plants that VP of operations Lee Weingrad genetically modified.
“I started growing these plants as a hobby and then I incorporated them into the farm because it attracts the fruit flies, gnats and ants,” Weingrad said. “There is a nectar on the leaves that attracts the bugs, and then they get digested by the acid that is secreted by the plant. The plants live off the nutrients of the bugs, so it’s a cyclical system that works phenomenally.”
When asked how the farm actually works, chef and salesperson John Paul Ramos said, “We take orders each day and harvest around 10 or 11 a.m. By 1 p.m. we are out the door delivering to restaurants and grocery stores with freshly-pulled produce.”
Metropolis Farms says it uses 98 percent less water than traditional farms by filtering and recycling water after use. Obviously plants use water, but it’s far less than the water wasted each year on outdoor farms. Metropolis Farms is also the first vegan-certified farm in the U.S.
Apparently investors find this new technology appealing, too. Metropolis is just about to close a $1 million investment round.
“What we did is create the first commercially-viable vertical farm with some of the highest densities and levels of growth ever seen,” Griffin said, describing his company’s main innovation. “And we produce everything at a fraction of the cost that even just hobbyists spend, because we built our system with simplicity and scalability in mind.”
Plus, the project borrows from a familiar web ethos.
“My vision,” Griffin said, “is to have communities start to embrace and use our open source technology to create small farms everywhere so that people can enjoy fresh produce year round at a fraction of the cost and with lower energy consumption than traditional farms.”