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Vertical Indoor Farms in the US Show Signs of Success


Strawberry Farm Located Inside a Greenhouse: Source; Creative Commons/Wikimedia


Vertical Farms are indoor farms that grow plants in stacked layers in large greenhouses, warehouses, or abandoned factories, or new buildings. They use technology and robotics to control the temperature, humidity, water, and conditions for growing the plant successfully indoors.


They use less land, water, and no pesticides to grow the vegetables and fruits. It has become a positive alternative to grow crops in addition to the traditional farming methods. Vertical farming has the potential to grow healthy fruits and vegetables for large populations. Some US companies have succeeded in starting a vertical farm business that have raised healthy produce and brought big profits.




Oishii Farm in New Jersey and the Japanese Strawberry


Two students in 2017 used their import licenses to bring Japanese strawberries to the United States. They were two MBA students Hiroki Koga and Brendan Somerville.



They took the Japanese strawberries to the best restaurants to let the chefs try them. They were trying to determine how much customers would pay for the product and market them. This was a cold calling and research project for their business idea.


Hiroki Koga from Japan has been a consultant for Deloitte and helped corporations implement and start vertical farms. He worked several years in the vertical farming business, and he believed Japan could excel in farming and wanted to share their techniques with the world.


Hiroki earned a degree in economics from the Waseda University in Tokyo and two master's degrees in language from Illinois University and a Ph.D. He received an MBA from UCLA where he met Brendan Somerville and developed the idea for their vertical farming business for Japanese strawberries called Oishii.


Brendan Sommerville was a marine stationed in Japan and had tasted the Japanese strawberries. Both men described the berries as sweeter than other varieties. Somerville said they tasted like candy apples. He attended UCLA and received an MBA, and he received a BS from Georgetown University. He had visited vertical farms and tried their products.


The two men raised money for the business, won contests, found investors, and moved to New Jersey to start the largest vertical farm in the US for strawberries. They used technology that measured temperature, carbon dioxide, humidity, water other factors. to grow the plants This created an ideal environment for growing crops indoors.


Using technology and robotics they produced an ideal environment for bees to pollinate their Japanese strawberry plants. Strawberry plants must be pollinated by bees to grow well. This was a major obstacle for them to overcome and they did do this.


Their company Oishii Farms created the Omakase Berry that uses 90% less land and water to grow. Hiroki Koga is CEO of the company and Brian Somerville Chief Operations Officer. Both are co-founders of the company.



Michelin star restaurants buy their strawberries for customers to serve as an upscale dessert. Their special niche strawberries were sold for $50 for about 12. The price was lowered to $20 in 2022 for 11 strawberries. You can find their strawberries in some Whole Food supermarkets in New Jersey, CT, and New York.


Customers have given the berry positive reviews for its sweetness, texture and smell. They are planning to grow other varieties of Japanese berries and vegetables as their business continues to grow.




Photo Source: Wix Media Robots Watering Lettuce Plants

Bowery Farms


Bowery Farms began in 2015 using warehouses to grow crops and has indoor farms in Kearny NJ, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. They have an R & D department for plant science and develop seeds for indoor farming. At his time they sell 13 varieties of leafy greens and herbs at Walmart and Whole Foods.


They grow greens using LED lights that resemble natural sunlight. Plants grow in nutrient rich soil and water beds in trays stacked from the floor to ceiling. The company has tested many different types of greens. Robotic machines can move and water the plants. They use software called FarmOS that constantly monitors plants and finds the best way to grow them.


With their methods, they can produce greens all year long. Because the population is growing in the cities this is an alternative way to grow crops. The company raised $7.5 billion from investors to start the business. The name of the business in Dutch means feed the city.


Irving Fain CEO & founder received a degree in English from Brown University. He says this type of farming is supplying supermarkets with produce, feeding underserved areas, and growing food in dry climates. They sell their produce to Whole Foods, Giant Food, Stop and Shop, Walmart, and Weis Markets. The company uses a hydroponic system to water the plants.


Ben Kant operations manager had to organize the farm in Frenchtown NJ. He has worked in controlled environmental agriculture and says this is like building a house. The company has a water filtration and recapture system that uses 100% renewable energy. The system calculates how much water the plants need and recirculates water to use again that has no pesticides or pollution.


They believe cutting back on water will be helpful to states that suffer from drought. The company plans to continue to develop vertical farms in different location to supply cities and states with local sustainable products.



Farm of the Future in Finland: Photo Source: North Dakota State University


Plenty Farms


This vertical farm located in Compton, California grows 4.5 million pounds of greens yearly. It is located in a warehouse the size of a city block. Their 3D vertical architecture increases the yield of crops 350 times the amount of an outdoor farm.


They grow plants on 3D vertical towers that rise two stories above the ground. The environment inside is controlled and automated. About 30% of their employees come from Compton. The company uses a fraction of the land and water traditional farming uses. The CEO Arama Kukutai has a background in investing in farming, dairy and aquaculture in New Zealand.


He has worked for Finistère Ventures a investment firm that identifies and helps build agricultural and food tech companies. He acquired a degree in business and agronomy from Victoria University. The company invested $1 million in science and technology and have 75 plant scientists on staff.


The company raises and sells produce to consumers and markets their farm model to third parties. They are building a vertical farm located in Virginia the will grow strawberries. They say their farming model is an alternative to outdoor farming not a replacement.


Daniel Malech their general counsel and legal director finds working on sustainable agriculture a reputable endeavor. They believe everyone should have

access to heathy food grown locally.


Daniel Malech manages compliance, program management and regulatory issues. He majored in political science and languages at Duke University and received a JD from Columbia University. He spends time with the engineers and workers learning how things work and making running efficiently and safely.


They are building a research center for vertical farming in Laramie, Wyoming that will be one of the largest in the world. It will be a 60,000 square feet and has 100 patents on new crops and ways to raise them in ideal conditions.












References:


The Giant Greenhouse Farm Says It Can Grow 100 Times More Greens Per Square Feet Than Traditional Farms. by Leanna Garfield, Insider, 2017


Vertical Farm Company Plenty Opens Indoor Farm in Compton, Isabel Sami, L.A. Business First, May 2023


Reimagine Farming From the Ground Up With Bowery in Bethlehem, Amy Unger, Leigh Valley Style, April 2023


Why Plenty Vertical Farm in Compton Is A Game-Changer, Brian Sparks, Greenhouse Grower, May 24, 2023


Meet Oishii the Tesla of Strawberries that Could Upend 1.3 Trillion Dollar Market, Joe Berkowitz, Fast Company, 11/21


Oishii Opens World Largest Vertical Farm in New Jersey, Press Release, BlueBook Services, May 19, 2022

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