|Growing the future|
High-tech farmers are using LED lights in ways that seem to border on science fiction
By Adrian Higgins in Cincinnati Nov. 6, 2018
ike Zelkind stands at one end of what was once a shipping container and opens the door to the future.
Thousands of young collard greens are growing vigorously under a glow of pink-purple lamps in a scene that seems to have come from a sci-fi movie, or at least a NASA experiment. But Zelkind is at the helm of an earthbound enterprise. He is chief executive of 80 Acres Farms, with a plant factory in an uptown Cincinnati neighborhood where warehouses sit cheek by jowl with detached houses.
Since plants emerged on Earth, they have relied on the light of the sun to feed and grow through the process of photosynthesis.
But Zelkind is part of a radical shift in agriculture — decades in the making — in which plants can be grown commercially without a single sunbeam. A number of technological advances have made this possible, but none more so than innovations in LED lighting.
“What is sunlight from a plant’s perspective?” Zelkind asks. “It’s a bunch of photons.”
Diode lights, which work by passing a current between semiconductors, have come a long way since they showed up in calculator displays in the 1970s. Compared with other forms of electrical illumination, light-emitting diodes use less energy, give off little heat and can be manipulated to optimize plant growth.