1st hydroponic vertical farm to support adults with autism opens in New Jersey

HACKENSACK, New Jersey (WABC) -- New Jersey is now home to its first hydroponic vertical farm designed specifically to support adults with autism.

"It's an ebb and flow system," Greens Do Good General Manager Chris Leishear said. "Twice a day for five minutes, we fill the trays up with water and then we drain them away five minutes later."

Greens Do Good in Hackensack is the latest year-round hydroponic vertical farm to open in the Garden State, but this one comes with a special purpose.

"The roots drain and are soaked in the water that's continually circulating with the nutrition that the plants need," Leishear said.

Hydroponic vertical farming involves growing mature crops in 30 to 40 days without soil and does so without using pesticides and herbicides.

The farm grows produce such as basil, lettuce and kale.

"The business model is to go into inner cities, often neglected overlooked communities, and provide very fresh, very nutritious locally produced food," Leishear said.

But they are also serving another often overlooked community -- adults with autism, which is a group that's chronically underemployed.

Jill Nadison is the executive director of REED Next, the non-profit organization providing the almost dozen employees at this farm.

"Many, many thousands of adults with autism need that daily life support," Nadison said. "And if they don't have that support, that means that their life skills that they're working on, such as making a sandwich, getting dressed in the morning, or even communication and language can literally disappear."

In fact, all of the profits from this farm are also going to REED Next.

As for the produce, it's being sold to local restaurants and businesses.

"This is a lot more than traditional agriculture can produce on a square footage basis," Leishear said.

New Jersey has the highest rate of autism in the nation, estimated to be about 1 in 34 children.

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