The farm of the future is right here in Philadelphia - Technical.ly Philly

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Feb. 3, 2016 2:40 pm

The farm of the future is right here in Philadelphia

See photos of South Philly's Metropolis Farms.

Left to right: Metropolis Farms' John Paul Ramos, Jack Griffin and Lee Weingrad.

(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.”

Fresh basil, hydroponically grown.

Fresh basil, hydroponically grown. (Photo by Jason Sherman)

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.”

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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.

Lee Weingrad of Metropolis Farms.

Lee Weingrad of Metropolis Farms. (Photo by Jason Sherman)

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.”

Jack Griffin shows of the Metropolis Farms setup.

Jack Griffin shows of the Metropolis Farms setup. (Photo by Jason Sherman)

John Paul Ramos of Metropolis Farms.

John Paul Ramos of Metropolis Farms. (Photo by Jason Sherman)

South Philly roots.

(Photo by Jason Sherman)

The setup.

(Photo by Jason Sherman)

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Jason Sherman

Jason Sherman is a serial entrepreneur who writes about tech startups for Technical.ly Philly and the Examiner, where he has contributed since March 2012. The cofounder of B2B video platform See2B, he's a drone pilot and official videographer for various tech meetups, as well as frequent tech community mentor. Sherman majored in computer science at Delaware Valley University during the dot-com boom. He loves all things tech, art, music, film, food and his Shih Tzu, Wolfgang.

  • Debbie Ellerkamp

    Amazing! Soooo proud of you Lee!!! Getting it done, Taurus style!!

  • Cindy Mendelson

    Classes for the home gardener?

    • http://brianstempin.com Brian Stempin

      I think that would be awesome! I’m looking into automating parts of my garden, so I’d love to see what they do.

  • Lars
  • Micky T.

    I’m a bit skeptical of some of these claims. 44 000 square feet of Basil will produce around 15-20 000lbs in a field. Can this farm produce 20 000lbs of basil in 36 square feet?

    • frank the crank

      or 44000 pounds of watermelons ?

  • Nic

    In a rapidly urbanizing world, this is a fantastic effort. Congratulations Metropolis team!

  • Lulu Leman

    What is in this mist, that is the key. Then the veggies nutrients need to be tested and retested against veggies grown in nutritional soil, lest we find years from now, missing nutrients which only a nutrition rich soil provides, cause birth defects, early death, scurvy etc. All easy to just grow with fake light and food but where is the ‘scientific control????”

  • Lulu Leman

    For profit not hunger at the moment, obviously…until control, science is proven. Not all food is the same.

  • Annabel L

    Amazing! There is a lot of vacant land in the area that could be turned into urban farms! That’ll be great for getting more jobs in the area and also utilizing wasted land!

  • Farmer Jones

    All nonfood safe plastics any hydro operation need to be using ONLY FOODSAFE certified plastics, lead leaches from PVC once fertilizers are add to the water, and even without fertilizers many plastics leach heavy metals into the produce.

    • gary lewis

      Good points! Just how safe are these artificially grown foods? And by whose measure?

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