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what is the value of vertical farming” and “does vertical farming make sense?” IN an article from AGRITECTURE.COM, Chad Sykes shared his opinions on vertical farming in an effort to help shape the ongoing debate and maybe help others from making a huge financial mistake.
The problem today is that the industry is selling a dream and not the honest reality.
THE BIRTH OF VERTICAL FARMING
His experience began in 2008 when introduced to Vertical Farming, or Building-Integrated-Agriculture. Angel Eyes Produce asked Chad for some help with marketing the Company to investors. Angel Eyes Produce was operating a 3,000 square foot warehouse inNew York growing a variety of crops indoors under fluorescent light and selling them through his local farmers market. Angel Eyes Produce was the first pioneer of small scale vertical farming in the U.S. The idea was unheard of at the time and finding willing investors proved to be difficult.
VERTICAL FARMING GOES BIG
In 2010 Dickson Despommier’s book, The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21stCentury was published. In the U.S., the big players in vertical farming were TerraSphere, Aerofarms and VertiCrop. These vertical farms tried to go big and commercial with automation and complex systems. For the next three years they were vying for the title of the “largest vertical farm.” Most of these expensive, highly automated vertical farms would eventually begin to fail and lessons were learned by these early pioneers.
New players learned from these failures and developed less complicated and less costly vertical farms such as Green Spirit Farms, FarmedHere, Ecopia Farms and Green Sense Farms. This new generation of vertical farms were being attempted at a large scale. 20,000 square feet and farms were being built with over 10 layers. Investors started accepting concept and more and more money was becoming available to start-up’s claiming to have the next greatest vertical farming idea. Vertical farming had finally started to gain some traction. It was an exciting time for the industry.
JUMPING INTO THE FRAY
In late 2011, Chad founded Indoor Harvest Corp. The idea was to combine a vertical farm with a café - simple, use the vertical farm as a marketing tool and offer fresh produce under a traditional café model that would serve soups, salads and sandwiches. In developing this idea, it became obvious there was more opportunity in the methods and processes of vertical farming than actually running one. While everyone was going for the title of biggest vertical farm, Chad realized the industry technology was evolving too quickly to jump in as an operator so turned his focus towards research and development. He started looking at ways to innovate vertical farming and build relationships and research and development partnerships to expand his knowledge base.
Image credit: Indoor Harvest
In 2012, he began conducting research and development with high-pressure aeroponics. I had been inspired by Richard Stoner’s work with Agrihouse and NASA as well as Aerofarms. However, I wasn’t satisfied with any of the existing designs so I began looking at how the method could be improved and better scaled. Those efforts caught the attention of a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab which led to an agreement and the commissioning of a research platform for OpenAg, formerly known as MITCityFarm. Working on this project, he learned a grower could manipulate the chemical expression of a plant by combining aeroponics, LED lighting and environmental controls. In late 2014, he took that knowledge and began working with Canopy Growth Corporation to test the potential of aeroponics and environmental controls for cannabis production.
In 2013, I was the first U.S. based Company to join the newly formed Association of Vertical Farming.
He worked with numerous big names in vertical farming, and has toured several major name vertical farms and asked to provide feedback. Now he shared some of that feedback publicly in an effort to promote better adoption, dispel some myths and help the discussion currently taking shape.
Image credit: Verticrop
LESSONS NOT BEING LEARNED
When he started, the vertical farming industry was lucky to get a published article once a month. Now, it’s not uncommon to see a dozen articles a week. Vertical farming has reached a critical mass. Unfortunately, the hype is creating a dangerous bubble which threatens to put the industry back several years. With Silicon Valley money now pouring into vertical farming because of the hype from technologists, everything is changing. Many of the mistakes made years ago are being made today by new entrants. People are reinventing and repackaging failed ideas. Recently, there was an excellent panel hosted at the Aglanta Conference where vertical farming pioneers discussed the challenges facing the industry.
( end of Part.1, Part.2 will be Chad’s advices to vertical farming industry.
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