By Caitlin Gunther
On a sunny Friday afternoon, Rob Laing and I meet in a conference room at ICE, a clear view up the west side of Manhattan just outside. Rob is the founder of Farm One, the organization that grows and tends to the fresh produce and herbs in ICE's hydroponic farm. Wearing a heather grey tee emblazoned with KALE, he’s agreed to meet with me to discuss a subject he’s passionate about—vertical farming. So passionate, in fact, that he left behind a successful Tokyo-startup career to dedicate himself to vertical farming full time. With the help of his farm manager David Goldstein, Rob brings to hydroponic farming a level of care instilled in him by years of immersion in Japanese culture. Take a look at his Instagram and you’ll see his attention to detail and the neatly composed minimalism that results from it. Start-up minded and forward-thinking, Rob’s not satisfied with growing the same old Genovese basil—he’s after the herbs and greens that aren’t readily available, the stuff that students, chef instructors and even visiting culinary masters like Thomas Keller haven’t before tasted.
In anticipation of forthcoming posts focusing on ICE’s hydroponic farm, I sat down with the man behind the greens to chat about his path to ICE and the state of agriculture and vertical farming today.
First things first: what is vertical farming?
Vertical farming is about moving food production to cities—rooftops, vacant lots or growing things inside buildings using artificial light. Vertical farming is the conceptual vision of this. Then there’s another concept of vertical farming, which is layers of growing areas that use artificial lighting stacked above each other. People started doing this type of vertical farming in Japan with 12 or so layers. With the advances in LED light technology, vertical farming has become way more efficient and less expensive. Ten years ago this stuff would be completely unfeasible.
Keep reading to discover more about vertical farming plus the influence of Japanese cuisine on Rob's approach.