Fresh Food Faster: Huge Indoor Farm Aims to Redefine Northeast Supply Chain

An employee tends to trays of microgreens at an Upward Farms facility in New York. The company recently announced plans to build a 250,000 square foot vertical farming facility in Luzerne County, Pa. 

Billed as the world’s largest indoor aquaponics vertical farm endeavor, a Brooklyn company recently announced plans to construct a 250,000-square-foot facility in Luzerne County.

Upward Farms, which has locations in New York, will use the new Pennsylvania facility to produce leafy greens and microgreens, and house an aquaculture component to produce hybrid striped bass.

Construction is expected to start soon and the facility is should be operational in early 2023. News reports identified the specific location as Hanover Township, but Upward Farms would not confirm the exact site within Luzerne County.

Jason Green, CEO and co-founder of Upward Farms, said the new location will be a manufacturing facility that will allow the company to reach grocery stores and distribution centers across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. Currently, Upward Farms supplies microgreen salads to Whole Foods Market locations in New York City, and Green said the Luzerne County location will allow the company to expand its customer base beyond the Tri-State area. The new facility will provide more than 100 jobs, ranging from production operators, to engineers, to experts in horticulture and aquaculture.

“We’ll be able to reach nearly 100 million Americans, within a single day of distribution versus the week it can take to receive products from the West Coast,” Green said. “It’s a significant savings in transportation costs and carbon emissions.”

Vertical farming is a form of agriculture in which produce such as microgreens — small, edible plant seedlings of vegetables and herbs — are grown on shelves in stacked layers in a controlled environment without soil. In addition, Upward Farms also plans to produce sustainably-raised hybrid striped bass in the facility, and the waste from the fish will be used as fertilizer for the microgreens.

The Luzerne County facility will be much larger than other vertical farms, according to Green, and it’s designed to reduce water and land use by 95% and eliminate 1.7 million food transportation miles per year. Products grown in the facility will be certified organic, non-GMO and free from synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.

The use of LED lighting in the new facility is a key to maintaining costs when it comes to raising leafy greens, he said. The leafy and microgreens are used in the company’s pre-packaged salad mixes, and it’s a product Green hopes to expand beyond New York City.

Upward Farms currently markets its hybrid striped bass to restaurants in New York City, and Green hopes to expand that component as well. Raising these fish in large tanks in an aquaponics setting, he said, has reached the point where it’s competitive on cost with traditional ocean farming or wild caught fish.

But the component that makes the Upward Farms approach to vertical farming unique is a reliance on ecological production methods as opposed to synthetic methods.

“By curating a diverse microbiome with genetic capacity for key functions, Upward Farms achieves an autonomous, self-optimizing, and highly productive biological manufacturing platform — including industry-leading commercial yields and 99% elimination of crop disease,” Green said. “The key technology that’s enabled the commercialization of microbiome-based agriculture is low-cost genetic sequencing.”

The Luzerne County site will be the third aquaponic vertical farm operated by Upward Farms — the other two are in New York — since the company was founded in 2013.