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Virginia vertical farm aims to be a ‘game changer for nutrition’ in food deserts

Nestled between an autobody shop and a doggy daycare, a remarkable organic vertical farm is flourishing, cultivating acres of produce year-round within the confines of a Virginia warehouse. Area 2 Farms, which took root in Arlington in 2022, has defied expectations by establishing a verdant oasis within an unassuming setting. A conspicuous green-painted door serves as a beacon, and even the name “Area 2 Farms” spelled out in bold white letters might not fully convey the agricultural marvel concealed behind the warehouse’s brick exterior.

Walking through the humid expanse, Jackie Potter, the marketing coordinator, guided WJLA’s Victoria Sanchez, unveiling the remarkable technology that powers this innovative endeavor. The heart of the operation is a towering device named Silo, boasting eight tiers of lush greens that almost touch the corrugated ceiling. Potter explained how Silo orchestrates the plants’ natural cycles.

“The bottom two layers here are not lit. So, this is where the plants are ‘sleeping’ and then they’ll come up to this third layer, they will get watered, they’ll heat up, their morning will start to happen and they’ll flow all the way through the entire apparatus,” Potter elucidated.

Area 2 Farms is pioneering urban farming, growing fresh produce in city centers. This ambitious concept initially faced skepticism, as persuading landlords to welcome an unconventional tenant proved challenging. “It was a little difficult to get landlords to take a chance on a farm,” Potter acknowledged. “The landlord was so nice to take a chance on us.”

The shifting landscape post-COVID has spurred exploration of novel ways to repurpose vacant spaces. The legality and feasibility of introducing farms into unorthodox settings, such as empty office spaces, has garnered attention. Potter shed light on the adaptable requirements: “It all kind of depends on which building it is and what the landlord says. We really just need an outlet and some water.”

Central to Area 2 Farms’ operation is the Silo, which orchestrates a seamless 24-hour cycle for the seedlings, emulating the rhythm of a traditional farm. However, in a playful twist, the farm’s mascots hail from the world of Toy Story. Radishes are watched over by Stinky Pete, green onions are guarded by Rex, and the rest of the ensemble contribute their unique roles.

Upon reaching maturity, the plants are gracefully lowered down by characters like Claw, Slinky, Buzz Lightyear, or Zurg, utilizing mechanical pulleys. The produce is meticulously harvested and delivered to the local community. Subscribers receive a weekly bounty of greens, herbs, and root vegetables for a fee ranging from $40 to $45.

Addressing urban food deserts—a phenomenon where fresh and nutritious food options are scarce—Area 2 Farms presents a solution. Potter emphasized the impact: “If we can bring a farm there, the fresh access to food, especially lower-income areas is huge. They are receiving bags of chips or other things to help aid with the food desert but if we were to bring a farm there, I mean that’s a game changer for nutrition.”

In this context, the USDA’s Food Access Research Atlas highlights that all of DC’s food deserts are situated east of the Anacostia River. Area 2 Farms strives to extend their impact by making their produce available through SNAP and WIC benefits, providing low-income families with the means to access fresh and wholesome ingredients.

For many, terms like “organic” and “farm-to-table” might seem like distant luxuries. However, Area 2 Farms envisions a future where these concepts are accessible to all, thereby cultivating a more equitable and sustainable food landscape for the nation.

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