Walk along the path between the BeltLine Eastside Trail and Ponce City Market’s Food Hall and you’ll see green towers spouting chard, basil, and other vegetables and herbs. These vertical aeroponic farm towers—a recent addition to PCM—are bringing new meaning to the term “urban farming.”
Once a month, office workers and residents will be able to snag freshly harvested items—think rainbow chard, bok choy, basil, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce, green onions, celery, and tomatoes—from a table on the property. There will be cooking demonstrations and recipe cards, too. (Interested? Keep an eye out for flyers around the property.)
“We wanted to bring a sense of community,” says Erin McCutcheon, owner and CEO of Copiana, the company responsible for maintaining and harvesting the towers.
For the first harvest, Copiana and Ponce City Market will donate the crops to Bellina Alimentari, which in turn will use them in salads and cocktails. Future harvests will benefit other onsite restaurants. If all goes well, each of the two towers will yield 28 pieces of produce per month, for a total of 56 vegetables and herbs. Other local developments—including Avalon, Terminus, and Sterling Pointe—are growing using Copiana towers, too.
The towers take up 90 percent less space and use 90 percent less water than traditional farming practices. By growing without soil, the towers reduce the chance of food-borne illness like E. coli to near zero, McCutcheon says. By handing the results of each monthly harvest directly to office workers and chefs onsite, Copiana eliminates the need for shipping, thus reducing carbon footprint. Plus, the fresher the food, the better it maintains its nutrients.
The towers work by pumping water from a 20-gallon basin at the bottom to the top, where it trickles down in cycles. The plant is held study in a cube of rock wool made from volcanic material, and Copiana representatives visit weekly, balancing the pH of the water with organic nutrients. The towers can grow any non-root vegetable.
Copiana’s vertical planters are also easier for complexes to manage. “Our towers can be anywhere outside with sun exposure or inside with lights, and can be installed in 30 minutes to an hour,” McCutcheon says.