Vertical farms will provide free nutritious food to residents in need now that the Jersey City Council has adopted a resolution approving an agreement between AeroFarms, the city, and the Housing Authority.
The new agreement means that vertical farms will be opened at Curries Woods and Marion Gardens.
The public housing farms, which will be funded by the city, will increase healthy food access where needed most and encourage residents to live healthier lifestyles.
The Jersey City Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), AeroFarms, and Jersey City Housing Authority will collaborate with the Boys & Girls Club and Head Start Early Childhood Learning programs to support produce distribution and healthy eating education.
“We’ve worked hard to keep the Vertical Farming Program a priority despite the impacts from this pandemic, which have disproportionately affected the more economically challenged areas and exacerbated societal issues such as healthy food access,” said Mayor Steven Fulop.
“We’re taking an innovative approach to a systemic issue that has plagued urban areas for far too long by taking matters into our own hands to provide thousands of pounds of locally-grown, nutritious foods that will help close the hunger gap and will have an immeasurable impact on the overall health of our community for years to come.”
AeroFarms will construct and maintain the farming sites. The first will be built at the Curries Woods Community Resource Center. The Boys & Girls Club and Head Start will integrate the vertical farm as a learning tool for youth within their educational programming.
Head Start, operated by Greater Bergen Community Action, plans to integrate greens into its early childhood meals.
AeroFarms indoor vertical farming technology uses up to 95 percent less water and no pesticides versus traditional field farming.
According to the city, the JCHA-Aerofarms Advisory Committee will be formed to provide strategic oversight and guidance throughout the program.
The steering committee will include Jersey City residents and stakeholders from the Boys & Girls Club and Head Start.
The city’s Vertical Farming Program will consist of eight additional vertical farms throughout Jersey City in senior centers, schools, public housing complexes, and municipal buildings.
The 10 sites will grow 19,000 pounds of vegetables annually using water mist and minimal electricity, according to the city.
The food is free to residents if they participate in five healthy eating workshops, and they will have the option of participating in a quarterly health screening.
“As a Certified B Corporation, we applaud Mayor Fulop’s leadership and advocacy to bring healthier food options closer to the community, and we are excited to launch together the nation’s first municipal vertical farming program that will have a far-lasting positive impact for multiple generations to come,” said Co-Founder and CEO of AeroFarms David Rosenberg.
The city’s Health and Human Service Department will run the program with a health-monitoring component to track participants’ progress under a greener diet, monitoring their blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity.
Crops will be integrated with other Healthy Food Access initiatives, including senior meal programs, according to the city.
“Access to healthy food and proper nutrition is directly linked to a person’s mental and physical health, and can decrease risks of chronic diseases while increasing life expectancy,” said Stacey Flanagan, director of Health and Human Service for Jersey City. “This past year has shed light on the health disparities that exist in urban areas nationwide, which is why we’ve remained focused on closing gaps where healthy food access is most needed, specifically for our low-income, youth, and senior populations.”
Healthy food initiatives
The Vertical Farming Program is part of the broader initiative from the World Economic Forum (WEF) toward partnerships with cities.
Jersey City is the first in the world to be selected by WEF to launch the Healthy City 2030 initiative, which aims to catalyze new ecosystems that will enable socially vibrant and health-centric cities and communities.
The vertical farming initiative is the latest and broadest effort Jersey City has launched around food access, including more than 5,000 food market tours for seniors to educate them on healthy eating, and the “Healthy Corner Store” initiative.
According to a 2018 city report, much of Jersey City could be described as a “food desert.”
The USDA defines a food desert as “a low-income census tract where either a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store.”
This means at least 500 people or 33 percent of the population live more than a mile from a supermarket or large grocery store.
According to the city, these deserts have led to an increased rate of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and other diet-related illnesses in the more marginalized communities of Jersey City.
“We are thrilled that the vertical farms that will be installed at JCHA sites to enable some of our most vulnerable residents, including low-income households, children and seniors, to have access to fresh, green produce that is nutritious, delicious, and easy to prepare,” said Vivian Brady-Phillips, director of the JCHA.