Irving Fain, a serial entrepreneur turned vertical farmer, is the CEO of New York-based indoor farm Bowery Farming. 2017 has been a banner year for the firm, as it raised a $7.5mn investment round to expand its “better than organic” produce farming operations. Ahead of his presentation at Indoor Ag-Con in May, we asked him five questions about vertical farming.
1. What’s the world domination plan? Should we expect to see Bowery Farms on every street corner in a few years’ time?
Our vision for Bowery is to change the way fresh food is grown and delivered to urban environments across the world. Right now we’re focused on our first farm in New Jersey and are starting to plan for our next one. We’ve intentionally designed our technology and systems to maximize our ability to scale Bowery quickly, profitably, and effectively. It’s important that our farms are located close to the point of consumption in order to deliver produce at the height of freshness and flavor. Ultimately we hope to serve as many cities as we can throughout the country and around the world.
2. On a scale of one to child birth, how painful was the process of raising funds? Would you do it again?
Having built a venture-backed business before I know firsthand how difficult fundraising can be. With Bowery, we were very fortunate and overwhelmed by the interest from the investment community so early on in the process. We’re excited to have such incredible partners on board who are some of the best investors in the world for companies at our stage. First Round Capital led our seed round of funding, with participation from Box Group, Lerer Hippeau Ventures, SV Angel, Homebrew, Flybridge, Red Swan, RRE, and Urban.us. We also have angel investors like Matt Salzberg (founder and CEO of Blue Apron), Sally Robling (chairman of Plated with 30 years of experience in the food industry), Adam Eskin (founder and CEO of Dig Inn), and Tom Colicchio (chef & restaurateur).
3. You’ve mentioned using machine learning and AI to monitor crops. How much difference has that made to crop yields to date? How much difference is it going to make in the future?
Machine learning and AI are incredibly powerful tools both to increase yields and also for optimizing freshness, quality, and taste. We’re excited about the potential the Bowery FarmOS holds because with each crop cycle and each day that passes we gain more and more data and our system gets increasingly smarter.
Bowery is already 100+ times more productive on the same footprint of land compared to traditional agriculture. By monitoring the growing process 24/7 and capturing data at each step, we are able to give our crops exactly what they need and nothing more. This is still a nascent industry — there’s so much to learn and so many improvements yet to be made.
4. How did you meet Chef Tom Colicchio? What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from working with him?
We were introduced to Tom through a mutual connection. After our first meeting, he was not only excited about the Bowery vision, but most importantly was blown away by the quality and taste of our produce. Shortly after, he wanted to become an investor and advisor and to use Bowery products in his restaurants. Tom is a pioneer in the farm-to-table movement and has always kept close tabs on new developments in the agriculture industry, so we’re incredibly grateful for his guidance, especially from a culinary perspective. Tom has a deep appreciation for the core ingredients themselves and continually reminds us to always stay focused on the quality of what we’re growing. Every Bowery crop needs to stand on its own in quality and flavor. With that foundation, great dishes are born.
5. Kale chips or potato chips and why?
Kale chips for sure, especially if they’re made with Bowery Kale :). Not only do they taste better, but I can eat as many as I want and still feel good at the end!
See Irving speak at the 5th Annual Indoor Ag-Con on May 3-4, 2017
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