Resiliency, Sustainability, Smart Farms: Q & A With Bowery Farming CCO Katie Seawell
From the recent opening of its largest, most technologically advanced sustainable commercial smart farm in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to its expansion into fruiting and vine crops with the launch of new strawberry varieties , Bowery Farming has been making a lot of headlines lately.
Indoor Ag-Con had the opportunity to catch up with Katie Seawell, Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) of the largest vertical farming company in the U.S, to get her thoughts on CEA industry trends and learn more about Bowery’s innovations, programs and mission to grow food smarter, sustainably, for more people, in more places.
What trend(s) are you seeing as it relates to how/why retailers are investing in CEA?
Investment in CEA comes down to two words: resiliency and sustainability. The past two years have made it painfully clear that climate change, global events, and supply chain disruption all have an enormous impact on our food systems. We need resiliency now more than ever before. By growing indoors, 365 days a year, with zero impact from drought, wildfires, or extreme temperatures, Bowery is growing a resilient supply of pesticide-free produce. And not only resilient, but predictable and reliable—we know, and therefore retailers know, exactly how much produce to expect, which cuts down on food waste.
Retailers and consumers are knowledgeable about where food comes from, and are investing in CEA for its sustainability practices. Bowery farms are powered 100% by renewable energy and cut down food miles drastically.
A product that is both good for the planet and more reliable is a powerful investment for retailers.
Can you share details around Bowery’s new partnership with the Nature Conservancy and what you hope to achieve through that relationship?
Bowery partnered with The Nature Conservancy to spread the word about #Rewilding—a movement committed to restoring degraded farmland and forests. A pack takeover during Earth Month and beyond included a QR code, available in over 1,000 grocery stores, to connect customers to information on actionable sustainability and restoration efforts, such as supporting The Nature Conservancy’s ‘Plant a Billion Trees’ campaign.
In addition to pledging to restore 50 acres in the U.S., in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, Bowery sought to raise awareness about Rewilding, and spotlight what is possible when we give Mother Earth a break – allowing land to ‘Rewild’. Our packs featured cutouts of six animals, such as the Louisiana Black Bear, which was recently delisted as an endangered species thanks to conservation efforts.
The missions of Bowery and TNC meet in this partnership, as Rewilding and indoor vertical farming are both part of the solution to address global challenges from climate change to ecosystem biodiversity to feeding growing populations. When we grow inside, we can restore outside.
Congrats on the recent opening of your newest farm in Bethlehem, PA. It’s described as Bowery’s largest, most technologically advanced & sustainable commercial smart farm. Can you share why you chose the Bethlehem site and how this newest farm fits into Bowery’s growth strategy?
Bethlehem represents the next chapter in climate-smart agriculture at Bowery. The Bethlehem Farm, once a non-arable industrial site, is now modern farmland. This transformation from brownfield to vertical farm means that fresh, healthy food is now being grown, year-round, where it was previously thought no food would ever grow again.
This commercial farm is also a blueprint for Bowery. It features a replicable system that will allow us to grow food wherever and whenever it is needed. The farm is powered with 100% renewable energy and features 15% more efficient LED lighting. Bowery’s Bethlehem Farm will bring fresh produce to a population of 50-million people within a 200-mile radius.
We chose Bethlehem for several reasons: to meet regional demand for pesticide-free, local produce grown sustainably; to further our mission of democratizing access to reliable, healthy produce; and to help fight the climate crisis by building resilient regional food systems on previously non-arable land. What was once the flagship site of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation is now, in part, a modern farm that will help feed the community.
Tell us a little more about aGirlculture, the women’s development network you co-founded at Bowery and serve as the group’s executive sponsor.
Over the course of my career, so many talented women leaders helped shape and inspire my path. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their encouragement and support. This background, where women fiercely support one another, led me to co-found aGirlculture at Bowery. The group brings together women of all levels to connect with peers and senior leaders. We’re creating a space for mentorship and other opportunities for personal and professional growth.
Our programming has included guest speakers, roundtable discussions, International Women’s Day celebrations, and more. During the height of the pandemic, we moved forward with our programming over Zoom.
It’s been very rewarding to build a space where rich discussions can happen, where we can dig into culturally relevant topics for women and lay the foundation for women to advocate for each other. And we’re just getting started.
Before joining Bowery, you were with Starbucks where you held a number of senior leadership roles in branding, marketing and product development. Can you share any lessons learned or challenges from your time at Starbucks that have helped you in your role at Bowery?
Two main lessons learned come to mind. First, Starbucks instilled in me a deep belief that we are all stewards of our planet, and that it is our responsibility to care for the environment to the best of our ability. This value led me to Bowery and guides the urgency I feel when it comes to our sustainability goals.
Second, my time at Starbucks taught me that the private sector cannot be a bystander when it comes to the challenges of climate change. Businesses need to put full weight and resources behind sustainability to be part of the solution to the climate crisis. By making responsible decisions to build sustainable models, we can solve really hard problems.
What’s next for Bowery?
The Bethlehem Farm, our Smart Farm of the Future, is a model for what’s next at Bowery. We have two additional farms under construction in Locust Grove, Georgia and Arlington, Texas and we’re on track to double our number of farms by 2023, with the goal of helping to alleviate the strains insecurity puts on the U.S. food supply and economy.
We’re also committed to innovation: our R&D team is continuing the diversification of our pesticide-free produce portfolio, unlocking new possibilities and flavors in food. This includes more SKUs in addition to leafy greens and herbs, such as strawberries and other fruiting and vine crops.
We envision a Bowery smart farm in every city in the U.S. and ultimately the entire world, and we’re on the growth trajectory to achieve just that.
For more information, visit the Bowery website — https://boweryfarming.com/