By Dagny Brand

An innovative vertical urban farm, MetroGrow Hawaii uses aeroponics to “provide high quality produce for the local restaurant and gourmet markets,” as Founder Kerry Kakazu said. “As we face more climate challenges and reduced resource availability, it will be essential to explore alternative forms of agriculture to ensure our food supply, especially in Hawaii.” Since 2013, MetroGrow has been increasing Hawaii’s food self-sufficiency through new farming technology, and the result is both fresh produce for the community and an effort toward a healthier, more sustainable future.

In an aeroponic farm, the plants are hanging in air, instead of being suspended in soil or water. MetroGrow provides nutrients and water to the plants through misting the roots. “The advantage of aeroponics is that the plant roots have maximum oxygen availability and can grow and function more effectively, leading to increased shoot growth and faster crop cycles,” explained Kakazu. MetroGrow’s produce grows in a controlled indoor environment, allowing the farmers to control lighting, temperature, humidity, irrigation, and nutrition. The LED lighting system allows MetroGrow to provide the plants with adequate light while producing less heat and using less electricity than a traditional lighting system. The temperature control allows MetroGrow to maintain an optimal temperature for growth and to produce crops that are difficult to grow outdoors. In their indoor environment, MetroGrow is also able to exclude pests and contaminants, so their produce is free of pesticides and other hazardous chemicals. “While we acknowledge that the energy costs are currently high for this type of production, we strive to be sustainable by incorporating solar electricity, utilizing less water, conserving land, reducing pollution, and minimizing pesticide use while providing fresh, high quality, clean, safe vegetables for our local markets,” Kakazu added. To learn more about the technology, you can read the engaging explanations on MetroGrow’s website, and MetroGrow has arranged visits for many groups related to education, farming, government, and more.

MetroGrow provides a variety of lettuces, microgreens, pea and corn shoots, and other specialty leafy greens to the community. Their Ice Plant, or Glacier Greens, is unique to the urban farm. Kakazu described the unusual crop as “a beautiful plant that looks like it’s covered with ice crystals.” The succulent, crunchy green has a nice salty taste which makes an interesting addition to salads and pairs well with seafood. Kakazu recommends it with sashimi and poke. MetroGrow plans to add edible flowers to their product mix. If you are curious about specific lettuce or leafy green varieties, MetroGrow has detailed descriptions of each product on their website. 

MetroGrow’s produce can be found in many local restaurants, such as Fête, MW Restaurant, 100 Sails, Mugen, Wasabi Bistro, and Yohei Sushi, and in Foodland. Additionally, MetroGrow has an online store where products can be ordered for pickup on Thursday afternoons, and they attend the Honolulu Farmers’ Market at the Neal Blaisdell Center on Wednesday afternoons. “We hope that our experience with vertical farming of premium produce will allow us to expand our operation for efficient and cost-effective production of more ‘commodity’ food items that can help reduce the need for produce imports in Hawaii,” said Kakazu, looking toward the future. For more information about MetroGrow Hawaii and aeroponics, click here.