People who find it weird to eat food grown in a basement have no reason to worry, said Neil Mattson, associate professor and greenhouse extension specialist at Cornell University. “There is nothing icky about it. Plants don’t care whether they get light from the sun or the lamps. It’s the same thing.”
Matthew Hyland, the chef and owner of Pizza Loves Emily, a client of Farm One, agreed. “A hydroponic garden in general is an amazing thing,” he said. “It’s lit nicely; it smells good in there; the temperature is nice; everything about it is very pleasing.”
The plants grow on shelves that can be expanded or contracted like the stacks in a university library (this setup almost doubles the growing space.) On one level there might be anise hyssop, an herb with tiny lavender-colored flowers and square stems that tastes strongly of mint and licorice. On another, mustard green, a plant that tastes a lot like spicy horseradish. The colors are so diverse and vibrant that the head horticulturalist, David Goldstein, has taken to arranging them on trays for parties.
Mr. Laing, a British-Australian entrepreneur with a sharp sense of humor, can walk around the farm and tell you exactly what every variety is and to whom it is being delivered. “This is my favorite,” he said, pulling off a leaf of papalo. “Crush it up a little bit in your hand and smell it first — there is cilantro, citrus peel. It’s super fresh and quite grassy.” He paused. “I never want to sell software again.”
In a previous life, Mr. Laing worked in Japan, where he started a translation software company. After eight years he turned his attention to his true passion: food. He took culinary classes and visited farmers’ markets across the world, discovering many rare herbs he had never heard of along the way. “And I was someone I thought knew about food,” he said. So he started researching ways to bring these herbs to chefs.
Farm One grew out of this research. In April 2016 the new company started growing…