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Ian Frazier – THE VERTICAL FARM

No. 212 Rome Street, in Newark, New Jersey, used to be the address of Grammer, Dempsey & Hudson, a steel-supply company. It was like a lumberyard for steel, which it bought in bulk from distant mills and distributed in smaller amounts, mostly to customers within a hundred-mile radius of Newark. It sold off its assets in 2008 and later shut down. In 2015, a new indoor-agriculture company called AeroFarms leased the property. It had the rusting corrugated-steel exterior torn down and a new building erected on the old frame. Then it filled nearly seventy thousand square feet of floor space with what is called a vertical farm. The building’s ceiling allowed for grow tables to be stacked twelve layers tall, to a height of thirty-six feet, in rows eighty feet long. The vertical farm grows kale, bok choi, watercress, arugula, red-leaf lettuce, mizuna, and other baby salad greens.

Grammer, Dempsey & Hudson was founded in 1929. Its workers were members of the Teamsters Union, whose stance could be aggressive. Once, somebody fired shots into the company’s office, but didn’t hit anyone. Despite the union, the company and its employees got along amicably, and many of them worked there all their lives. Men moved steel plate and I-beams with cranes that ran on tracks in the floor. Trucks pulled up to the loading bays and loaded or unloaded, coming and going through the streets of Newark, past the scrap-metal yards and chemical plants and breweries. In an average year, Grammer, Dempsey & Hudson shipped about twenty thousand tons of steel. When the vertical farm is in full operation, as it expects to be soon, it hopes to ship, annually, more than a thousand tons of greens.

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