Would you believe that right in the middle of TriBeCa there is a 1,000 square-foot hydroponic farm that supplies produce to some of NYC’s best restaurants, including Atera, Eleven Madison Park, Daniel, and Butter? Well, there is! It’s called Farm.One, and you can visit and sample their edible delights yourself, along with some complimentary prosecco to cleanse your palate.
I visited Farm.One with the New York Adventure Club, but the farm offers tours directly as well. When you arrive, you’ll need to get suited up in booties, a hair net, and a white coat. This is to reduce the chance of you introducing any contaminants into the highly-regulated growing environment so their plants stay safe and healthy. They don’t use any pesticides or herbicides in the farm, so their best line of defense is to ensure you’re not bringing any hitchhikers into the farm with you!
Our tour guide, Brittany, helped us get ready and poured us each a glass of cold and bubbly prosecco. The prosecco is a nice palate cleanser since you’re going to be tasting a bunch of different plants, some of which pack a whole lot of flavor. Once we were all suited up and had drinks in hand, Brittany opened the door to the farm, and we passed through an air curtain, which basically blows anything off of you as you walk into the farm.
Inside, we were able to see the entire farm all in one room! Despite the fact their space is only about 1,000 square feet, they grow vertically, which allows them to utilize 1,200 to 1,500 square feet of farming space. They also took some inspiration from libraries and their stack systems by installing their growing shelves onto a track, allowing them to roll the shelves together or apart to maximize their space and enable access from either side of the shelf.
Farm.One started out about 3.5 years ago in a much smaller space at the Institute of Culinary Education. The farm began as an experiment to see if there was any interest in their products and within a few months they were out of space! A couple years ago, they wanted to expand, and so they moved to this new space in TriBeCa, across from the two-Michelin star restaurant, Atera, who leases the farm space to Farm.One.
And surprisingly, the farm is actually in a basement! Though you take an elevator to Floor 1, which might make you assume you’ve gone UP, you’ve actually gone down below street level where there aren’t any windows. But with hydroponic farming, it doesn’t matter if you’re in a basement because the environment is completely controlled to provide ideal growing conditions at all times.
So as you might imagine, Farm.One is a very highly technological farm, equipped with LED lights, fans, and a water aeration and filtration system capable of delivering oxygen to the water and providing all the essential nutrients to the plants. All of their planting, harvesting, and delivering is tracked digitally as well to ensure they’re operating as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
They’re typically growing anywhere from 40-60 different plants at a time and can even grow up to as many as 100 different varieties at once when they’re experimenting a bit (which they’re doing at the moment since many chefs are planning out their spring menus and looking for new and different flavors to incorporate).
Once inside the farm, we got down to business learning about how hydroponic farming actually works. As the name implies, this is farming done completely in water. And while you may think that this is a drain on water resources, Brittany told us that hydroponic farming actually uses about 95% less water than traditional agriculture practices. As she said, they use more water at the farm for doing the laundry, washing dishes, and flushing the toilets than they do inside the farm itself.
There is no soil to be found on the farm, though you will learn about a couple items used in hydroponic farming that mimic soil and these are known as “growing mediums”. Essentially, these are little pod-type things that seeds can be placed on top or inside of in order to give the plant a bit of structure. These pods don’t provide any nutrition to the plants, though. All of the nutrients the plants need actually come from the water, which is also constantly aerated. Without aeration, the plants wouldn’t get the oxygen they need to thrive (which is also why your plants die when you overwater them!)
As you walk through the farm, you’ll see tags on the various plants which highlight all the important information you need to know, including what the plant is, when it was planted, when it needs to be harvested, and (most interestingly) for which chef or restaurant it’s being grown. For NYC foodies, this is a treasure trove! And it’s also pretty cool to see where some of your favorite chefs are getting the produce that might appear on your plate the next time you eat in one of their restaurants!
But even more fun for foodies is the fact that this tour includes tastings! And let’s face it, this was the best part. We started out with some delicate little microgreens, which you’ve probably had as a garnish or as part of a salad. They’re typically harvested within 20 days of planting, so they’re cycled through pretty quickly. Since they are so delicate, though, they don’t last very long once harvested, so any microgreens you might find on your plate from Farm.One will likely have been harvested within the last day or two.
Next, we tried what was probably my favorite plant, which was the purple oxalis. The stem, leaves, and flowers are all edible, and each part has its own distinct flavor. Oxalis has oxalic acid, which is also found in the skin of plums and grapes, and when you taste the purple oxalis, you can definitely see the similarities. The leaves of oxalis are more savory and often used in salads, whereas the stems are very tart and good for vinaigrettes. The flowers are just beautiful and can often be found as a garnish, adding a lovely touch of color to desserts!
We continued our tasting with marigolds and a pretty purple flower called nepitella, which was also their first big hit when the farm started out. The flavor of the leaves is a bit of a cross between oregano and mint, and the flowers are very sweet, making it a popular plant amongst NYC chefs. After, we sampled some epazote, a couple different kinds of basil, some mustard greens (which really packed a punch), and then the most interesting thing I’ve ever eaten in my life, which is a plant called jambu.
Yowzas, this stuff was insane. Also known as buzz buttons or electric buttons, jambu is a plant native to Brazil and you don’t just taste it–you feel it. At first, it’s all tart and citrusy and pucker-inducing. Next, you feel the buzzing on your tongue. It kinda reminded of the feeling you get when you eat Pop Rocks! And finally, you get to the point where your tongue is just a bit numb, which is pretty much the state I was in for about an hour after trying this plant. They mentioned a bar in Brooklyn had been using it in cocktails, and I can only imagine what an experience drinking an entire cocktail with this stuff must be like! Holy smokes.
With the prosecco gone and our tongues numb, our tour of Farm.One came to a conclusion. After passing back out through the air curtain, we took off our hairnets, booties, and jackets and Farm.One gave us a little gift bag of treats, including some fresh basil and a little kit for growing some plants of our own at home.
This tour is fascinating for farmers and gardeners, chefs and foodies, and really for anyone who just likes to learn. It was super interesting, and when you consider that fresh water is likely to become more scarce in the future, it also offered a peek into what we might expect farming to be like in the next 20+ years. They also offer hydroponic farming classes to both kids and adults, and you can have them cater an edible bar at parties and weddings and whatnot if you prefer to taste their produce in a more festive setting.
No matter how you do it, I think you’ll enjoy checking out Farm.One. And if you do, stop back here and tell me which plant you enjoyed the most!
Plan Your Own Visit
Where to Go
- Farm.One: 77 Worth Street, New York, NY 10013
- They’re located on Level 1, which is actually in the basement rather than up one floor.
When to Go
- Farm.One regularly offers tours themselves, and New York Adventure Club has just started offering regular tours as well. Choose whichever option works best for you and your schedule!
- Tours are typically in the evening and offered most days except for Sundays and Wednesdays.
Tips for Visiting
- This might not be the ideal tour for you if you’re prone to allergies, particularly plant, food, or flower allergies. We tasted a pretty wide variety of plants, some familiar and some not so familiar, so use your best judgment as to whether you feel you can safely enjoy this experience.
- They request that you do not wear sweaters, knit caps, or other knit materials during your tour. You will still need to don hair nets, booties and one of their white coats before entering the farm, and you should wear closed-toe shoes as well.
- This is an active farm and they’re growing food, so it’s important that you follow all instructions and that you don’t touch or taste any of the plants without their permission to do so.
- If you’re interested in more than just a tour, check out their classes for both kids and adults!
- You can also hire Farm.One to cater an edible bar for your next party if you prefer to bring the tasting experience to your own event.