The farms coming to a city near you might be very tall

Startups are looking to feed hungry cities by growing crops in warehouses, without soil or natural light. Photo by  National Geographic. 

Startups are looking to feed hungry cities by growing crops in warehouses, without soil or natural light. Photo by National Geographic. 

Irving Fain is looking to bring fresh food to urban areas more sustainably and efficiently than ever before. In an interview with National Geographic, Fain, the CEO of a New Jersey-based vertical farming startup called Bowery, outlines all the ways his system capitalizes on the failures of traditional agriculture.

“We end up more than 100 times more productive than a square foot of outdoor farmland, and we're saving over 95 percent of the water,” he said. His farm is free of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides, which means their crops can grow healthfully at the same rate every day, 365 days a year.

For the time being most vertical farmers are focused on crops that have the highest chance of surviving and will be most marketable, which means varieties of greens and herbs. But at San Francisco based Plenty, customers can expect strawberries, tomatoes and cucumbers within the next couple of years.

Stacked farming

So how does vertical farming work? Indoor agriculture startups grow crops under LED lights in nutrient-rich waterbeds sometimes stacked 30 feet high. Many of them rely on automated systems to track and monitor crop growth, along with teams of data analysts to maximize productivity.

Housing these farms in urban areas is a key part of their appeal because it means crops grow extremely close to the point of consumption. So, in terms of money and fossil fuels expended, the cost is low. At Farm.One in Manhattan, where a variety of indoor farmed herbs and edible flowers are delivered by bike to the city’s top-rated chefs, the cost is nearly zero.

Reimagining farming

Helping establish vertical farming as a legitimate option is its growing number of financial backers, including Amazon, Goldman Sachs, and others. The managing partner of GGV, one of Bowery’s major investors, explained his company’s motivation to Forbes. “We think the industry is more or less near an inflection point,” he says. “It is no longer just a pie-in-the-sky theory. It has the chance to scale in the next five years.”

He, Fain, and many others are among those working to reimagine farming. At Infarm, a vertical farm in Berlin, they’re farmers, but they’re also “plant scientists, robotics, industrial designers, IT wizards, architects, futurists, and chefs.” Bring it.

Takeaway: Want to get involved? Here’s how you can invest your time, money and spirit:

  • Brooklyn's Square Roots sells their greens at local farmer’s markets. They’re also offering Farm-to-Local Memberships. Get your greens delivered fresh to your office!
  • Bowery is already offering six types of its tested organic crops in stores - find them at select Whole Foods and Foragers stores in the tri-state area.
  • Buy from AeroFarms online.
  • Learn how to farm indoor with classes at Farm.One. They offer 3-hour intros and two-day intensives! Or consider joining in the Resident Entrepreneur Program at Square Roots.
  • Interested in farming vertically at your home? Startups like Infarm and Urban Crop Solutions want to sell their solutions to independent growers, supermarkets and the like.
  • The Association for Vertical Farming has a website of incredible resources. Scroll down on theirhomepage to discover vertical farming startups located all around the world. There might just be one near you!