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.

Business Insider Automobile 2 months ago

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, as well as its flights from New York's JFK to Singapore via Frankfurt, Germany.

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 October 1. 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, though the JFK flight also has regular economy and first class.

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 JFK and Newark had to be flown in from 3,000 miles 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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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."

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
David Slotnick/Business Insider

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

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. It can grow year-round, regardless of season.

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

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

It starts with a cloth-like material on which seeds are placed, and eventually roots are stored. 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.

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 crops are exposed to LED bulbs emitting specific light spectrums, designed to discourage pests, optimize the nutrients the plants get, and even control the flavor of the plants.

Instead of sunlight, the crops are exposed to LED bulbs emitting specific light spectrums, designed to discourage pests, optimize the nutrients the plants get, and even control the flavor of the plants.
David Slotnick/Business Insider

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

With that 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.

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.

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...

Within just a few days, the farm will see its seeds begin to germinate...
David Slotnick/Business Insider

...Begin to grow...

...Begin to grow...
David Slotnick/Business Insider

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

... Take hold in the cloth medium ...
David Slotnick/Business Insider

... And grow ...

... And grow ...
David Slotnick/Business Insider

... And grow ...

... And grow ...
David Slotnick/Business Insider

... And grow.

... And grow.
David Slotnick/Business Insider

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

The farm has a variety of high-tech solutions to optimize plant growth, including computer-controlled misting...
David Slotnick/Business Insider

... Temperature controls ...

... 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.

... 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 ...

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.

... 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 ...

Sensors, controls, and backups help ensure that the plants can grow in the best conditions possible ...
David Slotnick/Business Insider

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

... And make it easier to keep track of different crops and growing cycles.
David Slotnick/Business Insider

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

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

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

... Including removing jewelry, entering through a series of pressurized rooms and doorways, and wearing hair nets, gowns, gloves, and more.
David Slotnick/Business Insider

The farm employs about 150 people.

The farm employs about 150 people.
David Slotnick/Business Insider

Once plants reach a certain point...

Once plants reach a certain point...
David Slotnick/Business Insider

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

... 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 ...

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 ...

... 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.

... Where they're packaged either for bulk delivery to clients like Singapore Airlines, or for retail.
David Slotnick/Business Insider

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

The growing, harvesting, and packaging operation may be unique ...
David Slotnick/Business Insider

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

... 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.

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 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.

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 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.

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.

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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