Edenworks, a Brooklyn, New York-based vertical aquaponics operation, is preparing for a significant expansion. It is currently based out of a 400-square-foot facility where it grows microgreens that are later sold at the Williamsburg Whole Foods store in Brooklyn. But by the end of the year, the company will be completing construction on its new 18,000-square-foot facility.
In its aquaponics system, Edenworks uses LEDs for its microgreens.
“We found the most affordable LED light we could find and then started playing around with the spacing on that to get different intensities,” chief design officer and co-founder Ben Silverman says. “We were still developing what our specifications and requirements were at that point. But I think that was still the right route, because it was the cheapest way for us to get going with LED lighting.”
The decision to explore LEDs worked out for Edenworks, as the company is building its new facility with a lighting plan in place.
An intro into LEDs
Silverman, who designed the original system and its update with fellow founders Jason Green and Matt La Rosa, comes form an architecture and construction background. His first foray into urban farming came when he was volunteering at different urban agriculture projects in New York City, and during that time he met Green and helped design an aquaponics system for the first time.
“I just got interested in it, kept researching it and then happened to meet Jason,” he says.For the first two years of Edenworks’ existence, Silverman says the business focused mostly on building rooftop greenhouses. But they came to find that rooftop growing didn’t offer the constistency or yield they were hoping for, and rooftop growing became too expensive, according to their own economic analysis. It was then that Edenworks turned to LEDs.
“We did another economic analysis, [wondering] what if we started growing indoors in a first-floor factory doing a vertical farm setup with LED lights,” he says. “And we found that the LED lighting really does pay off. That’s something that’s just happened in the past several years.”
When Edenworks began shopping around for LEDs, over 20 companies reached out to Edenworks, Silverman says. It was able to narrow their list down to six by eliminating companies that couldn’t offer high uniformity and high yield in the plants.
“If the light is not that intense you might get a leafier microgreen,” Silverman says. “They might start reaching up and focus more of their energy on building the stem rather than building the leaves. For us, it was finding what is the right intensity, so we can get the micros to be tall enough that they’re easy to harvest.”
From there, Edenworks conducted internal tests using lights from each company and compared their respective features and attributes. This led to Edenworks purchasing lights from Fluence Bioengineering.
Plans for the facility
According to Silverman, a major reason why Edenworks chose Fluence’s lights was because of their design.
“Our company was born and raised in New York and in New York City space is tight,” Silverman says. “With our system, we created a very dense, tightly packed system ftom shelf to shelf. And what Fluence did on top of all the other positives was that it was super slim and thin and just slid right into our systems. They were an inch, an inch and a half, thinner than the others, but for us that made a difference given our growing environment out in New York City.”
Additionally, he says that Edenwork’s testing showed that the white spectrum fixtures were working “just as well or better” than the purple spectrum fixtures some of the other companies were offering.
“That combined with the fact that when we looked at the plants, it was difficult for us to identify the health of the plant under the purple light versus the white light, led us towards going with a full spectrum white light,” Silverman says.
Aside from the exact cost of the equipment outfitting the facility, Silverman says the expansion and investment in LEDs is part of a plan for Edenworks. If all goes according to plan, Edenworks’ microgreens will be in every Whole Foods in New York City next year and the business will be selling enough microgreens to make the initial upfront cost worth it.
“We based [the expansion] on the interest that Whole Foods has discussed with us and what they’ve said that they want to sell, and they could throughout all of their stores,” he says. “And then we also had to balance that with the level of automation equipment that we plan to bring in.”