Business Insider Edition

Singapore Airlines, one of the most ritzy airlines in the world, is partnering with a high-tech urban farm to make sure it serves the best meal on every flight. Take a look inside the futuristic operation.

David Slotnick , Business Insider US
 Sep 19, 2019, 03:36 PM
David Slotnick/Business Insider
  • Singapore Airlines is about to launch a new "farm-to-plane" dining program, using vegetables grown at a local farm in Newark, New Jersey, in dishes on board its flights from the New York City area.
  • AeroFarms, the company supplying the greens, is a high-tech "vertical farm," which uses a controlled climate, LED lights, and a new type of farming called aeroponics to grow crops in reclaimed urban spaces.
  • Business Insider toured the AeroFarms facility to learn more about how the process works, and how things like baby kale and watercress can go from the farm to 35,000 feet (10,000 metres) in just a few short hours. Scroll down to walkthrough this unique urban farm.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za

What's the deal with airplane food?

If Singapore Airlines has anything to say about it, that classic stand-up joke will soon be a thing of the past.

The airline made headlines in 2017 when it announced a new "farm-to-plane" dining service coming to its long-haul flights, and again this spring when it announced its first sourcing partner.

Now, the locally-sourced, fine-dining initiative is about to launch on the world's longest flight.

After months of planning and preparation, the farm-to-plane service is kicking off next month on the airline's flight between the New York City-area Newark airport and Singapore.

The airline will work with AeroFarms, a unique indoor vertical farming company based in Newark, New Jersey, to source leafy greens and vegetables for several of the appetizers in its business class cabin starting in October. Meals made with the local greens will eventually be expanded to other courses and other cabins - the plane operating the flight is entirely business class and premium economy.

While the novelty of the "farm-to-table" concept in the sky, coupled with the fresh taste of the meals has an obvious appeal, the airline also touts the sustainability of both sourcing ingredients locally, and supporting eco-efficient businesses like AeroFarms with its business. It could be easy to dismiss that - the airline, after all, is an airline, and relies on fossil fuels to fly emission-generating planes around the world - but there's a twofold benefit that sourcing crops from a company like AeroFarms can provide.

Normally, while catering in the winter, "the greens for our flights from Newark had to be flown in from 3,000 miles (4,000km) away, from California, Mexico, or Florida," said James Boyd, Singapore's head of US communications. "This allows us to instead source our greens from less than five miles (8km) away, cutting down on shipping waste."

Additionally, Singapore is looking to expand the farm-to-plane initiative with similar sustainable urban farms around the world, giving a boost to growing eco-friendly businesses - for instance, AeroFarms, which said it plans to add more facilities, is a certified B-Corp, a designation given to businesses that meet certain environmental and ethical standards.

Business Insider recently toured the AeroFarms facility at Newark to see how everything works. Take a look below for our walkthrough of the facility, and the process of getting the greens from the farm to the skies.


Welcome to AeroFarms.

David Slotnick/Business Insider

This high-tech, one-acre vertical farm can be found at an old steel plant in Newark, New Jersey.

David Slotnick/Business Insider

The farm grows a variety of leafy greens and vegetables that will be used in dishes prepared by Singapore Airlines for its flight from Newark Airport to Singapore — the longest flight in the world.

David Slotnick/Business Insider

Despite its small one-acre footprint, the farm can grow roughly 390 times as much output as a normal farm with the same acreage.

David Slotnick/Business Insider

That incredible output isn't just because the crops are grown on trays stacked to the ceiling — it's because of a unique and proprietary method that AeroFarms uses, based off a technology called "aeroponics."

David Slotnick/Business Insider

Aeroponics is a seemingly simple but cutting-edge growing process.

AeroFarms

It uses a mist of water and air to help crops grow in an environment without soil, pesticides, sunlight, or weeds. Aeroponics farms can grow crops year-round, regardless of season.

David Slotnick/Business Insider

It starts with a cloth-like material on which seeds are placed, and where the roots will eventually take hold. The material is laid across trays, which are placed into the farm's growing racks.

David Slotnick/Business Insider

From there, the farm uses a mist of water, coupled with nutrients, to start the seeds' growth.

David Slotnick/Business Insider

Instead of sunlight, the farm uses LED bulbs emitting specific light spectrums, designed to discourage pests, optimise the nutrients the plants get, and even control the flavour of the plants.

David Slotnick/Business Insider

With this method, AeroFarms can grow mature, ready-to-harvest plants in a fraction of the time of a normal farm.

David Slotnick/Business Insider

While baby leafy greens would normally take 30–45 days to reach maturity, AeroFarms said that it only takes AeroFarms 12–14 days.

David Slotnick/Business Insider

That faster growth means that food can be supplied faster, keeping up with demand while using just a fraction of the energy.

David Slotnick/Business Insider

Within just a few days, the farm will see its seeds begin to germinate...

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...Begin to grow...

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... Take hold in the cloth medium ...

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... And grow ...

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... And grow ...

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... And grow.

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The farm has a variety of high-tech solutions to optimise plant growth, including computer-controlled misting...

David Slotnick/Business Insider

... Temperature controls ...

David Slotnick/Business Insider

... And systems that help manage the growth environment, ranging from fans, controlled air pressure between different rooms, and more.

David Slotnick/Business Insider

The racks of trays resembled a server room in an office, except that each row had plants growing on it ...

David Slotnick/Business Insider

... Something you typically wouldn't see around computer servers.

Singapore Airlines

Sensors, controls, and backups help ensure that the plants can grow in the best conditions possible ...

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... And make it easier to keep track of different crops and growing cycles.

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Employees and visitors take a number of precautions to avoid accidentally interfering with the growth or contaminating the food-bound plants ...

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... Including removing jewelry, entering through a series of pressurised rooms and doorways, and wearing hair nets, gowns, gloves, and more.

David Slotnick/Business Insider

The farm employs about 150 people.

David Slotnick/Business Insider

Once plants reach a certain point...

David Slotnick/Business Insider

... They're ready to go into the food supply — including in Singapore Airlines' dishes.

David Slotnick/Business Insider

Growing trays can be taken individually to the harvest room, whenever they're ready — unfortunately, we weren't able to take photos of the process ...

David Slotnick/Business Insider

... And then to the packaging room ...

David Slotnick/Business Insider

... Where they're packaged either for bulk delivery to clients like Singapore Airlines, or for retail.

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The growing, harvesting, and packaging operation may be unique ...

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... But AeroFarms is planning to expand, hoping to open additional locations.

David Slotnick/Business Insider

Business Insider sampled a few different harvested greens, including baby kale, and spicy watercress.

David Slotnick/Business Insider

After being packaged, the sky-bound greens are trucked to nearby Flying Food Group — the caterer that supplies Singapore's Newark flight, which is about four miles (6km) away — where they're used for the day's dishes. The airline said it would start with three appetizers, including a garden green salad, heirloom tomato ceviche, and a soy poached chicken, pictured here.

Singapore Airlines

Then, the dishes are brought from Flying Food Group just down the road to Newark Airport, where they're loaded onto the plane.

Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

If you're interested in trying AeroFarms' produce and you're located in the New York City metropolitan area, the farm sells packaged goods in local grocery stores under the brand name Dream Greens.

David Slotnick/Business Insider

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