When you think of twinkling lights at night, you probably imagine sparkling cityscapes rather than fields of rural farms.
Not so with Studio Roosegaarde’s latest project, Grow. Founder Daan Roosegaarde and his team swathed over 215,000 square feet of leek crops in undulating red, blue, and UV LED light. They activate the lights at night, giving the field the appearance of glowing creatures at the bottom of the ocean instead of a farm. The agency calls it an “homage to the beauty of agriculture,” but it also highlights the surprising science behind how light design can help plants grow.
Scientists have actually used LED lights for indoor farming, like greenhouses and vertical farms, for years now. (Phillips launched a Netherlands indoor farming lab back in 2015.) What they’ve found is that red and blue LED lights can give indoor plants some of the same benefits they’d typically get from the sun: Red lightwaves help plants grow and blue help them flower. If you think of red and blue lights as raw ingredients, you can customize the perfect lightwave “recipe” for your plant.
But according to Roosegaarde, this tech hasn’t been applied to outdoor crops nearly as much. In addition to red and blue lights, Grow also uses UV, which builds up plant resistance. Roosegaarde says this could reduce reduce pesticide use and increase crop growth, making it more sustainable for the planet at the same time.
“Grow,” the public artwork, is inspired by this science; Studio Roosegaarde partnered with Rabobank and Wageningen University on the project. There are four units run on solar-powered batteries that project a particular “light recipe” of red, blue, and UV light on the farm’s leek crops. While the light seems to bathe the hills as far as the eye can see, Roosegaarde says it’s actually very precise: When activated, the light shines horizontally so that there’s no light pollution. At the same time, beaming the crops after the sun sets actually extends sunlight for a few hours.
Roosegaarde acknowledges that the agriculture industry is one of the world’s most harmful polluters. But he says a project like this also highlights the necessity of innovation and the importance of consumers being more active participants. “If we’re not the makers of our future, we’re its victims,” he says. “In this horrible crisis that we live in, it’s important to invest in new ideas,” especially when statistics on their own don’t seem to push people to become more green. “Numbers won’t change us,” he says. “By showing the beauty of sustainable agriculture and how light design can help speed up sustainability, it helps people.” The right light recipe could increase crop production and reduce chemical use and, maybe, change minds.
The exhibition will travel to 40 other countries once safe to do so, including the U.S., and will highlight the native crops in each.