Harlem becomes new home for indoor farming pilot program

indoor farming pilot program pod in Harlem
Harlem is the latest site to join a new indoor farming pilot program.
Photo courtesy of Governor Hochul’s office

A new indoor farming pilot program aimed at increasing the year-round availability of fresh fruits and vegetables for local underserved families is coming to Harlem.

Part of a multi-state demonstration funded by the New York Power Authority and led by energy R&D institute EPRI, the new project will put a shipping container outside a New York City Housing Authority building that will help communities grow produce throughout the year, develop healthy habits and learn about sustainability and environmental issues. The local nonprofit Harlem Grown will manage the food production and support distribution to the community.

“With year-round indoor farming, our communities will have the opportunity to grow fresh, healthy produce locally to help build a more sustainable New York,” Governor Hochul said. “I’m proud to announce this hydroponic garden in Harlem, which will provide healthy food to local families and help educate the next generation of urban farmers. As we learn more about the environmental and energy impacts of urban crop production, New York is taking another nation-leading step in advancing our clean energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals.”

“We are honored and excited to be part of this revolutionary project in urban farming alongside New York Power Authority, EPRI and New York City Housing Authority,” Founder and CEO of Harlem Grown Tony Hillery said. “Harlem Grown exists for the community, and this indoor food production system gives us more opportunity to work with all age groups — from our young people to our seniors in the neighborhood. Our space for farming is limited in the city so we need to be innovative and forward thinking about ways to provide fresh, locally-grown food year round. This project is about more than farming; this is about food and environmental sustainability and food justice.”

In addition to providing fruits and vegetables to the community, the project will also investigate how to increase yields and manage resources, while reducing associated greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption. The project helps advance the goals of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which requires New York to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent before 2030 and by no less than 85 percent by 2050. 

The shipping container will act as a hydroponic greenhouse that grows produce in a soil-less environment, and will be heavily insulated and use electric technologies to grow the crops. In addition to improving local access to fresh produce, indoor agriculture has been shown to reduce shipping costs and reduce or eliminate the use of fossil fuels within crop production while eliminating the need for pesticides and reduce water consumption for certain crops.

New York Power Authority’s Environmental Justice team, which is funding the $250,000 program with New York Power Authority’s Research, Technology Development and Innovation program, managed the placement of the 40-foot shipping container branded “Planting fruits and vegetables. Growing healthy communities.” The outdoor weatherproof container is in an open lot off 140th Street next to the P.S. 139 Senior Center, which is currently being converted to an outdoor garden and meeting place.

Through a collaboration with the New York Power Authority and EPRI, the Harlem farming project will help increase learnings about the environmental, energy, and community impacts of indoor agriculture, which in turn will help inform a broader understanding of the sustainability of local, indoor crop production, including energy and water consumption as well as increase community engagement, provide educational opportunities on technology and agriculture, stimulate local job creation and expand local crop availability. Beyond examining farming practices, this project also aims to evaluate how indoor food production could impact the state’s electrical and utility grid through monitoring the use of electricity and water, technology innovations, and sustainability considerations.

New York Power Authority’s Interim President and CEO Justin E. Driscoll said, “The New York Power Authority is proud to be an active supporter and partner in providing locally grown healthy resources to the communities around our facilities. Educating young people while improving industry practices and producing healthy crops is a win win. As a utility, the smart use of energy is always top of mind and we want to understand how indoor food production will impact the state’s grid and electric usage while also providing a reliable year-round food source for local families.”

State Senator Cordell Cleare said, “I am proud to support the enterprising work of Governor Hochul and Harlem Grown who have an innovative, educational, environmentally-conscious and replicable model that can teach our youth invaluable skills and lessons—as well as supply families with locally grown produce. It is my sincere hope that these type of local projects flourish in conjunction with other necessary investments in our community such as truly affordable housing.”

Harlem is now one of more than a dozen controlled environment farms that EPRI is studying nationwide, including a similar project in the Buffalo metro area that launched in 2020. To date, the Buffalo farm has provided more than 1,200 pounds of kale which has been distributed to local families as part of FeedMore WNY’s nutrition programming.

Director of Sustainability and Ecosystem Stewardship at EPRI Morgan Scott said, “Controlled environment agriculture is a promising area of research where communities and energy partners may help build more sustainable agriculture methods that locally benefit the communities they serve. We look forward to expanding our collaboration with New York Power Authority in Harlem and for the greater New York community.”

Vice President of Environmental Justice Lisa Payne Wansley said, “New York Power Authority works to improve the lives of members of the local communities where we operate by providing programs and resources they wouldn’t otherwise have. Indoor food production is a growing industry and the learnings from this national demonstration could have a major impact on disadvantaged communities across the U.S. Sustainability and green technology have the potential to increase year-round access to fresh local produce, reduce water and pesticide use, and boost food security for many of our neighbors in need.”