People who find it weird to eat food grown in a basement have no reason to worry, said Neil Mattson, associate professor and greenhouse extension specialist at Cornell University. “There is nothing icky about it. Plants don’t care whether they get light from the sun or the lamps. It’s the same thing.”
Matthew Hyland, the chef and owner of Pizza Loves Emily, a client of Farm One, agreed. “A hydroponic garden in general is an amazing thing,” he said. “It’s lit nicely; it smells good in there; the temperature is nice; everything about it is very pleasing.”
The plants grow on shelves that can be expanded or contracted like the stacks in a university library (this setup almost doubles the growing space.) On one level there might be anise hyssop, an herb with tiny lavender-colored flowers and square stems that tastes strongly of mint and licorice. On another, mustard green, a plant that tastes a lot like spicy horseradish. The colors are so diverse and vibrant that the head horticulturalist, David Goldstein, has taken to arranging them on trays for parties.
Mr. Laing, a British-Australian entrepreneur with a sharp sense of humor, can walk around the farm and tell you exactly what every variety is and to whom it is being delivered. “This is my favorite,” he said, pulling off a leaf of papalo. “Crush it up a little bit in your hand and smell it first — there is cilantro, citrus peel. It’s super fresh and quite grassy.” He paused. “I never want to sell software again.”
In a previous life, Mr. Laing worked in Japan, where he started a translation software company. After eight years he turned his attention to his true passion: food. He took culinary classes and visited farmers’ markets across the world, discovering many rare herbs he had never heard of along the way. “And I was someone I thought knew about food,” he said. So he started researching ways to bring these herbs to chefs.
Farm One grew out of this research. In April 2016 the new company started growing products at a small indoor farm at the Institute of Culinary Education, also in Lower Manhattan, on Liberty Street. By August, the farm had its first client: Daniel Boulud’s Daniel. By the end of the summer, the herbs had sold out, which led Farm One to open a second location this fall, at 77 Worth Street.
For $50, New Yorkers can take a tour of the farm, tasting dozens of rare flowers while sipping a glass of prosecco, and they are given a box of herbs to take home. Farm One also offers seminars on the basics of hydroponics, and any herbs and flowers not snapped up by chefs are available for purchase through its website. Mr. Laing is discussing bringing the farm to other cities.
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