What's happening with vertical, hydroponic Bowery Farming during COVID-19
Carmela Cugini, executive vice president of sales at Bowery Farming, New York, talks with The Packer’s Northeast editor Amy Sowder about the Kearny, N.J., farms and sales and marketing during the pandemic. ( Photo by Amy Sowder )

Bowery Farming, New York, is one of the dozen or so indoor vertical farm companies cropping up nationwide the last several years that are being taken seriously since the process proved its commercial scalability. 

These automated, controlled-atmosphere farms stick mostly to lettuces and herbs for their quick growth cycles and need for little space, among other reasons. 

Several characteristics of this type of urban, vertical, indoor agriculture have been an advantage amid the recent romaine lettuce recalls and also during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Carmela Cugini, Bowery's executive vice president of sales.

The company has a research and development farm, plus a commercial farm in Kearny, N.J., she said. Another commercial farm is in Baltimore, and company headquarters is in Manhattan.

Bowery has the ability to quickly adjust its supply to meet the rollercoaster market since March, starting with the pandemic's early panic buying at supermarkets and then the subsequent drop, plus the rise in online shopping, Cugini said.

While neither food safety nor production have been a widespread U.S. problem so far during the new coronavirus, supply chain disruption and worker outbreaks have.

But Bowery has added more retail customers and seen more online engagement, Cugini said.

"Because of the way we grow, we’re able to flex our supply chain," she said. "We signed another 140 locations just in April."

And because the farms are automated, barely any people are indoors, so there's less chance of spreading the virus from person to person, she said.

April was the peak of coronavirus cases and deaths in New York and New Jersey, the second biggest U.S. hotspot for the pandemic, according to the New York Times.

Look for in-depth reporting on New Jersey produce and markets in print June 1 and online soon afterward.

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Year in Produce No. 9 — Urban/Vertical Farming