Singapore introduces (really) fresh, local produce on flights from Newark
Close your eyes for a moment and think about a vegetable farm. What comes to mind? Lush, verdant fields? Acres and acres of crops gently swaying in a damp summer breeze?
How about a former steel mill on a potholed road in Newark, New Jersey?
But maybe it should come to mind, especially if you're traveling on Singapore Airlines' nonstop service from Newark (EWR) to Singapore (SIN).
If you're sitting in business class on that flight, the greens in your salad will be grown locally and harvested within days — in some cases hours — of your flight. It sounds crazy, but Newark-based AeroFarms has turned New York City's neighbor city into a hidden agricultural district.
This isn't your average farm though.
AeroFarms uses what's called an "aeroponic" growing method. That means the plants aren't in soil, as in a traditional field. Nor are they in water, as in a hydroponic setting. Instead, they're watered and given nutrients from misters, supplied with light from specially calibrated LEDs and rooted in a growing pad made completely from recycled plastic bottles.
This is farming with a futuristic, technological bent.
According to Marc Oshima, AeroFarms' co-founder and chief marketing officer, the company carefully tracks its output, collecting millions of data points along with every harvest. That, Oshima said, makes AeroFarms' operation far more efficient than traditional agriculture.
"We like to think of ourselves as the plant whisperers," Oshima said.
A plant that could take many weeks — or even months — to grow on a traditional farm may reach maturity in a matter of days in AeroFarms' carefully controlled environment.
Oshima also noted that plants grown in the AeroFarms stacks don't have to deal with weeds, insects or other natural annoyances that can hinder outdoor crops. The farmers in Newark can make minute adjustments to individual planting sections, tweaking growing conditions to meet the exact needs of each particular crop.
To keep the environment sterile, visitors to the growing room have to wash their hands, don protective gear, pass through pressurized antechambers and wash the soles of their shoes. All that protection goes a long way toward preventing contamination. Among other benefits, it means AeroFarms has no need for herbicides or pesticides, so its produce is ready to eat as soon as it's harvested.
The company has nine farms around the world and counts Whole Foods, ShopRite and Fresh Direct among its list of clients. Though AeroFarms has grown more than 700 different kinds of plants across its facilities, its main focus is baby leafy greens like arugula, bok choy and watercress.
For Singapore Airlines, which has an ongoing farm-to-plane initiative across its network, AeroFarm is a perfect partner.
“Imagine boarding a plane and enjoying a salad harvested only a few hours before takeoff — literally the world’s freshest airline food,” Antony McNeil, director of food and beverage for Singapore Airlines, said in a statement. “The only way to get fresher greens in-flight is to pick them from your own garden.”
AeroFarms' headquarters is about five miles from Newark Liberty International Airport, the U.S. gateway for Singapore's flagship nonstop service, the current longest flight in the world. That short drive means the produce Singapore buys from AeroFarms is not just fresh for the passengers who eat it, it also has a significantly smaller carbon footprint than the greens the airline used to source elsewhere.
Before beginning the partnership with AeroFarms, the airline would buy produce from farms in California, Mexico or Florida, only to have to fly it to the New York area before loading it on its flights.
Over the next three months, passengers departing from Newark will be served three different salads that feature some of the locally grown greens:
An Asian soy-poached chicken salad with bok choy ...
tomato ceviche salad with AeroFarms arugula ...
... and smoked salmon with a "spicy greens" mix, which includes arugula and mustard cress.
During a tasting at AeroFarms, McNeil said the airline hopes to find ways to use the produce from Newark even more efficiently. For example, he said, bok choy stems, which are currently discarded, may be used as garnish on other dishes in the future.
Singapore is looking to further expand its farm-to-plane initiative, including eventually serving produce from AeroFarms to premium economy passengers from Newark and to travelers departing from JFK. You can look forward to more fresh produce on your flights to the Lion City soon.
All photos by Zach Wichter/The Points Guy.