As you continue to traverse the globe in search of the mythical Biscoff Cookie Tree while daydreaming of rivers that gush forth Mr. & Mrs. T Original Bloody Mary Mix, it’s worth taking note that one U.S. airline’s signature in-flight snack will soon be of far less mysterious provenance. In fact, Terra Blues Potato Chips — you know, the complimentary nibbles dispensed during JetBlue flights — will be grown, so to speak, practically at the gate thanks to a first-of-its-kind urban farming initiative at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York.
Described as an “agricultural and educational resource for the community,” the just-unveiled airport farm, first and foremost, adds a splash of greenery to the sweeping concrete expanses of JetBlue HQ at JFK's Terminal 5 (T5). Three years in the making, the project also functions as an honest-to-goodness 2,400-square-foot potato patch capable of yielding 1,000 pounds of Adirondack blue potatoes, a strikingly hued tuber of South American origin, per harvest.
Along with the plastic milk crate-grown spuds, a variety of “carefully selected” (read: determined as non-critter ‘n’ bird-attracting by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey) veggies and herbs including arugula, spinach, mint, basil, chives, garlic, onions and beets will also be cultivated at the world’s first in-terminal blue potato farm. (Crops such as tomatoes, berries, wheat and corn were deemed by the Port Authority as being too risky).
The blue potatoes grown and harvested at the T5 farm will indeed be potentially used — big emphasis on potentially — as the key ingredient in the salty, slightly nutty Terra Blues chips served onboard JetBlue flights.
As reported by the Associated Press, the JFK taters “might be used to make the blue chips served on JetBlue flights, but not only the company figures out if the crop has the right amount of starch, sugar and moisture.”
Even then, it takes three potatoes to produce a single bag of Terra Blues chips. And that being said, the relatively compact T5 Farm will not serve as Terra’s primary purple-ish spud-growing operation. That responsibility still goes to a farm in blue potato country, aka the northernmost reaches of Maine. At its current size, T5 Farm's potato patch will likely yield less than 1 percent of demand — still, it's something.
Manufactured by natural foods heavyweight Hain Celestial Group, Terra Blues have been JetBlue’s official in-flight snack since the low-cost carrier — “New York’s Hometown Airline” — launched in 2000. Last year alone, JetBlue handed out 5.7 million bags of the non-GMO Terra chips which are also available in taro and a range of sweet potato varieties.
In addition to blue potatoes, the additional crops grown at the T5 Farm will be used at some of T5’s 30-plus restaurants and grab-and-go food kiosks. Some of the airport-harvested produce will also be donated to local food pantries.
And in a nifty twist, even the soil used to grow the potatoes and produce at T5 Farm is JFK-borne. As part of a joint venture between JetBlue, Royal Waste Services and Air Ventures, a handful of T5 eateries partake in a composting program in which food scraps, 300 pounds of it per day, are hauled off to a farm in New York’s Hudson Valley where organic leftovers are composted and turned into nutrient-rich soil. It’s this very soil that was hauled back to Queens and used in the creation of the T5 Farm.
Says Sophia Mendelsohn, sustainability honcho for JetBlue, in a press release issued by the airline:
An airport seems like an unexpected place for a farming experiment, but what better way to explore JetBlue's role in the food cycle than to harvest right in our own back yard at JFK. Our customers expect T5 to offer them unique experiences. We know from our T5 Rooftop that people are drawn to light and green spaces, and they also have an inherent interest in understanding where their food comes from.
The T5 Rooftop that Mendelsohn mentions is the lauded terminal’s newest attention-grabbing amenity. Opened to all ticketed JetBlue passengers this past July, the 4,000-square-foot al fresco lounge is a post-security oasis complete with dog run, food carts, free Wi-Fi, views of the Manhattan skyline and lush, park-like expanses of grass. JetBlue also regularly hosts pop shows as part of the Live from T5 concert series because the last thing you want to hear before being stuffed inside a Burbank-bound aluminum tube for four-and-a-half hours is Sarah McLachlan.
Small-scale airport farming operations aside, the blue potatoes used in Terra's distinctive snack are grown in Maine. (Photo: Urbanfoodie33/flickr)
Across the way, Finnish-born architect Eero Saarinen’s iconic but long-abandoned space-age masterpiece, JFK’s TWA Terminal, will soon be transformed into a chichi LEED-certified hotel complex as part of a $265 million historic restoration and new development project. As part of the much-anticipated overhaul, the old TWA Terminal, serving as the hotel's lobby, will be connected to T5. JetBlue will serve as partial owner of the new hotel alongside MCR Development.
As for the fledgling mini-farm and its 3,000 bolted-to-the-ground plastic milk crates, it’s located on the pre-security departures level of T5 — adjacent to Saarinen’s swoop-tastic 1962 landmark. (Future hotel guests will likely have views of a working potato farm, which is, obviously, more than a touch unique for an airport hotel). For now, the curbside urban farm is off-limits to the public although the airline, in partnership with GrowNYC, plans to open it up to local students as a hands-on teaching garden. Previously, JetBlue partnered with GrowNYC to bring a pop-up greenmarket to T5. With the new farm, the ultimate goal is to permit passengers to connect with the land before being ferried off into the deep blue sky.