Jonas Günther (TANDON ’18)
Master of Science in Management of Technology
Shrinking Farming’s Footprint
By Andrew Postman
Portrait by Robert Nethery
To satisfy his three core passions—technology, sustainability, and food—Jonas Günther, who had studied industrial engineering in Hamburg, Germany, came to study at the Tandon School of Engineering. Upon entering MakerSpace, the school’s collaborative projects design lab, he told an electrical engineering professor of his goal to use tech to grow food more sustainably. “On the spot,” says Günther, “he told me, ‘Go get the materials and don't worry about the initial budget.’ ”
While still a student, he created Tandon’s Urban Food Lab. It conducts research surrounding aquaponic vertical agriculture, in which crops are grown on top of one another in a system that connects to fish-inhabited water; the fish waste is a natural fertilizer for the plants, and the plants help purify the water for the fish.
Before graduation, Günther teamed with Michael Udovich (TANDON ’18) and Daniel Bernstein to launch We Are the New Farmers. The company grows, packages, and sells spirulina, a wildly vitamin- and mineral-rich blue-green microalgae.
Numerous studies point to spirulina’s trifecta: concentrated nutrients and protein, lower environmental impact, and minimal carbon emissions. To yield the equivalent amount of protein as beef, spirulina farming produces 19 times less CO2 and requires 4,000 times less land and 14 times less water.
The three partners didn’t discover the magic of spirulina, which has been around for roughly 3.6 billion years. Nor did they first detect its benefits, as it has long been athletes’ secret weapon for muscle recovery. What’s unique is the way they produce their spirulina. They create refrigerated paste or frozen cubes rather than the more common powder, which can taste bitter and fishy. The start-up prides itself on another point of differentiation: its sustainability. “We’re completely vertically integrated,” Günther says of their operation in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. “We farm. We make our products. We ship our products.” Speaking of not impacting natural resources, “we barely need any inputs to produce this type of algae,” Günther says. “[Spirulina is] an incredibly fast photo-synthesizer, which helps us with carbon utilization. It’s a carbon-eating machine.”
What’s unique is the way they produce their spirulina. They create refrigerated paste or frozen cubes rather than the more common powder, which can taste bitter and fishy. The start-up prides itself on another point of differentiation: its sustainability. “We’re completely vertically integrated.”