Convene Magazine Feature: Event Venues Go Upscale With Onsite Vertical Farms
Convene Magazine Feature: ‘Event Venues Go Upscale With Onsite Vertical Farms’
Indoor Ag-Con was recently featured in an article in Convene, the leading meetings industry publication published by the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA)
By 2050, the United Nations predicts the world’s population will reach nearly 10 billion — a significant jump from the approximately 7.7 billion residents alive today. How will the Earth nourish so many inhabitants?
One potential path to food security is vertical farms, a sustainable, clean-tech technology. At least, that’s how Brian Sullivan sees it. In late 2018, Sullivan, president and CEO of Great American Expo, joined forces with Nancy Hallberg and Kris Sieradski, the co-founders of Connections Housing, to acquire Indoor Ag-Con, an annual event that focuses on growing crops in indoor systems. “As the population grows, farming that relies on acres of land, irrigation, and fertilizers encounters some big issues,” Sullivan told Convene. “Indoor farming, on the other hand, may only require five percent of the amount of water, and you can do it in Midtown Manhattan if you want. Our show is trying to show people how to do it from start to finish and how to make sure their food safety practices are correct.”
Indoor Ag-Con’s diverse audience of around 600 attendees includes chefs, policymakers, produce buyers, and investors who are taking cues from the likes of Softbank and Google Ventures, two companies that already have made sizable bets on the vertical farming industry. As Hallberg looks ahead to the 2020 edition of the show, scheduled for May 18–20 at the Wynn in Las Vegas, she said she has noticed the show is attracting more interest from the hospitality sector. “We’re seeing hotel chains and convention centers that are interested in coming,” Hallberg said. “In addition to playing a role in leaving the Earth better for the future, there is a marketing angle that this kind of hyper-local growing process offers.”
Indoor agriculture already has taken root at a number of event venues. For example, the Smart Farm in the North Building of the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio, opened in 2017 and yields between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds of Swiss chard, kale, arugula, basil, mint, and other greens each year. In 2018, the Orlando World Center Marriott unveiled the HyCube, a first-of-its-kind glowing structure located next to the hotel’s main kitchen, which grows lettuce, spinach, herbs, and edible flowers that are used in catering menus for groups using the property’s 450,000 square feet of meeting space.
Four years ago, Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) unveiled its Center-to-Table Garden in the venue’s West Building. The space features 81 towers with 44 planting spots per tower to grow two types of lettuce, a range of other greens, and edible flowers. Last year’s harvest included more than 40,000 plants, and executive chef James Katurakes, known as Chef K, told Convene that the gardens give meetings extra meaning.