Soil-less Sky Farming: Rooftop Hydroponics on NYC Restaurant (Video)

06/21/2011 07:04 pm ET | Updated Aug 21, 2011

I stepped onto the roof of the West Village restaurant Bell, Book and Candle and caught a glimpse of the future. I was surrounded by 60 white plastic towers seemingly sprouting from the floor. Seventy varieties of herbs, vegetables and fruits dripped from the towers, but there was no dirt up here.

Chef John Mooney -- my tour guide -- is able to grow nearly two-thirds the vegetables for his restaurant precisely because he doesn't rely on soil. Instead, Mooney and his partner Mick O'Sullivan have installed 60 vertical tower hydroponic systems creating a plastic, vertical, dirt-free garden.

As Mooney describes, hydroponics rely on "liquid soil." Instead of dirt providing the plants with their food, nutrients are delivered via water (i.e. the water is fertilized, not soil). Mooney claims that he can grow produce much faster by not relying on dirt. His lettuce, he believes, grows 25% times faster than conventional lettuce.

It's no coincidence that this glowing white rooftop sprouting pods looks like the future. Mooney says he already sees that future arriving.

I think in the next 10 years it will be so common. I mean I've seen so many things happen between last year and this year. Just yesterday we had a friend of mine who owns a big record label in Chicago, he put 10 towers on his personal home in Chicago. There's another sustainable seafood restaurant I do work for in Washington DC, we have 20 towers coming for them in two weeks... Even Hearst Tower they have some of this technology there.

Hydroponic growing requires a constant circulation of water, but Mooney and O'Sullivan have limited themselves to clean power. A solar panel powers the nutrient-dosing system and the water is then fed to the plants using gravity. Once the vegetables are harvested, Mooney lowers his harvest by pulley down the six flights from rooftop to his restaurant below.

In this video, Mooney shows us his rooftop garden in springtime and talks about why hydroponics and vertical farming are in our future.

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