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Pennsylvania Ag News Headlines
Disappointing Closure of World's Largest Vertical Farm Leaves Future of Organic Agriculture in Question
Pennsylvania Ag Connection - 06/02/2023

New York-based Upward Farms, known for its groundbreaking vertical farming practices, has announced the closure of its business, including the suspension of construction on the world's largest vertical farm in northeastern Pennsylvania. The $160 million high-rise indoor "aquaponics" farm, intended to revolutionize organic food production, was being constructed near Wilkes-Barre but will now remain unfinished.

The closure of Upward Farms, after a decade of operation, has resulted in the layoff of nearly 80 employees, with two operating vertical farms in New York shutting down. The company's clientele included prestigious establishments like Whole Foods in New York City and upscale restaurants in the Hamptons.

The challenges of vertical farming proved to be more intricate than anticipated, according to the company's statement. Despite initial enthusiasm and media recognition for its potential to transform organic food production and ecological sustainability, the complexities of the vertical farming process presented ongoing obstacles that proved insurmountable.

The proposed vertical farm, situated on mine-scarred land in Luzerne County, aimed to cultivate organic microgreens using an aquaponics system. This innovative approach involved fertilizing the crops with waste from on-site hybrid striped bass, filtering the fish waste to produce organic fertilizer and beneficial bacteria. The company's proprietary technology would have utilized bacteria cultures from the plants to optimize growing conditions and maximize yield.

The envisioned facility promised numerous environmental benefits, including reduced water and land usage, elimination of pesticides, and prevention of erosion and nutrient runoff. Additionally, the vertical farm was designed to be powered by renewable energy and incorporate robotic assistance, ultimately providing 100 full-time jobs.

The closure of Upward Farms raises questions about the future of organic agriculture and the scalability of vertical farming. The anticipated facility would have significantly increased the availability of fresh leafy greens for the Northeast region, where the majority currently comes from the West Coast.

The discontinuation of this ambitious project highlights the complex and evolving nature of sustainable farming practices, underscoring the need for further research and innovation to unlock the full potential of vertical farming in the pursuit of a more sustainable and resilient food system.

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