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Tag: sustainability

Little Leaf Farms CEO: Navigating Sustainable Growth and Fresh Innovations

Join us for this month’s Q&A with Paul Sellew, the forward-thinking Founder & CEO of Little Leaf Farms, the largest U.S. greenhouse producer of hydroponic baby greens.   As the opening morning keynote speaker for the March 11-12, 2024 edition of Indoor Ag-Con, Paul sheds light on the challenges and opportunities of expanding Little Leaf Farms’ footprint, the eco-friendly practices that set it apart, and the company’s commitment to a farmer-first mindset.  From becoming the top-selling lettuce in New England to doubling production capacity with the recent expansion into McAdoo, PA, Sellew gives a glimpse into the company’s commitment to sustainable agriculture and its exciting plans for the future.

Given Little Leaf Farms’ recent milestone of becoming the #1 best-selling packaged lettuce in New England and the opening of a new greenhouse in McAdoo, PA, what challenges and opportunities do you foresee in expanding your footprint to new regions – and how does this contribute to your goal of reaching 100 acres under glass by 2026?
Little Leaf Farms.Packaging

When we opened our first greenhouse, we set out to build a more resilient food system and have pioneered a peri-urban approach in controlled environment agriculture. This means that our greenhouses are built in the surrounding regions of major urban centers to minimize the amount our leafy greens have to travel to reach the consumer, resulting in a lettuce that lasts longer and tastes better. We know this is the right model to enable us to bring our leafy greens to markets all over the country and are confident that once consumers in those new markets try our lettuce, they’ll never go back.

Little Leaf emphasizes sustainability. Can you highlight specific environmental practices that set the company apart and resonate with consumers?

Little Leaf Farms Indoor Ag-ContentEvery step of our growing process was designed to limit our impact on the planet. For example, we utilize captured rainwater in our soil-less farming, which results in 90% less water usage than field-grown greens. Plus our greenhouse locations are in regions with high natural precipitation and not dependent on groundwater as the west coast growers do.  . Our Devens, MA greenhouse gets 45 inches of rain per year alone and we use all of it, whereas Salinas, California sees only 10 inches of rain per year.

Our greenhouses are also built to maximize the free power of the sun, enabling us to grow our leafy greens with natural sunlight and solar-powered energy. We’re also using space much more efficiently and have 30 times more yield than conventional farms. In fact, 10 acres of our indoor greenhouse replaces 300 acres in a traditional farm. Our packages are just as important to our process, which is why they’re made from 100% post-consumer PET, which makes them infinitely recyclable and provides a much longer shelf life, too.

In a competitive market environment, what sets Little Leaf Farms apart, and how do you plan to maintain your leadership position as you expand to new markets?

Little Leaf Farms.ProcessWe have always approached growing lettuce as a farming company, rather than a tech company. While we are technologists and our technology is cutting-edge, our priority is growing sustainable, local lettuce that most importantly, tastes great. Our lettuce arrives on grocery store shelves within 24 hours of harvesting, spending less time traveling than most other lettuces. This, in addition to our highly automated system and sustainable growing practices, results in fresh, flavorful leafy greens that remain crispy a remarkably long time after purchase. At the end of the day, we’re growing food. People want to buy and eat what tastes good, and our amazing taste is what’s going to continue to be the differentiator for us.  We’ve also grown our business in a way that gives us the ability to scale profitably and better service our retailers, which is going to continue to put us in a position to challenge and compete with field-grown brands as we enter new markets. We’ve surpassed field-grown greens in New England and I’m confident we can replicate that success in other markets across the country as we grow.

In discussing the company’s success, you’ve mentioned maintaining a “farming company” mindset rather than a “tech play” approach.  Can you elaborate on how this mindset influences decision-making, innovation, and the overall character of Little Leaf, especially considering the evolving landscape of technology in agriculture?

Little Leaf Farms. PAOur business is about farming, and we consider farming a people-based business that puts the crop first. This mindset enables us to recruit the best team of growers, R&D staff, operations staff, and more to carry out our mission of growing fresh leafy greens for all. The farmer-first mindset also reinforces our commitment to growing a product that tastes great and that people actually want to eat, which ties directly to our mission of bringing fresh, leafy greens for all.

What’s next for Little Leaf Farms?

Our current focus is on getting our leafy greens to as many consumers as possible. Our recent expansion into McAdoo, PA has not only doubled our production capacity but has increased our retail presence to nearly 5,000 stores, expanding our footprint to include retailers in the Midwest and Southeast.

Little Leaf Farms.PA 2We’ve also expanded our product line to now offer salad kits made with our signature Baby Crispy Green Leaf lettuce, which had an initial launch in the Northeast this fall but will be expanding to our full distribution footprint in January 2024.

Learn more about Little Leaf Farms by visiting the website.  And, make plans now to join us for Indoor Ag-Con 2024 to hear Paul’s opening morning keynote address at 8 am on Monday, March 11, 2024!

Cultivating Change: Vertical Harvest CEO Talks Urban Farming, Local Impact, and Sustainable Futures

Founded in Jackson, Wyoming in 2016, Vertical Harvest stands out as a pioneering force — fusing architectural imagination, sustainable agriculture and a commitment to inclusivity.  Our CEA Q&A with CEO Nona Yehia explores the design principles and sustainability initiatives shaping her company’s growth, its newest projects in Westbrook, ME, and Detroit, MI and the meaningful difference the Vertical Harvest “Grow Well” model is making on the lives of individuals with disabilities.   From redefining “local” in food production to utilizing sustainable practices, Vertical Harvest has emerged not just as a trailblazer in controlled environment agriculture, but as a leader dedicated to feeding communities and fostering a brighter, more inclusive future.

As an accomplished architect, you brought your vision of North America’s first vertical hydroponic greenhouse to life with your flagship farm in Jackson, Wyoming in 2016. Could you share the key design and sustainability principles that guided the development of Vertical Harvest, and how these principles align with the company’s broader mission?

Vertical HarvestOur first farm in Wyoming started with a simple mandate: responsibly grow as much food as possible within our community (which has a four-month growing season and imports 90% of the food we eat) and to create job opportunities for people who live in our community, especially ones who suffer overwhelming unemployment rates, like people with disabilities. Our goal was to pursue both missions simultaneously, year-round via indoor growing, and work within the parameters of a city very scarce on available land and with a seasonable economy/labor pool.

And as an architect I’ve always been driven to try and understand the systems that build communities, how they support people, and conversely how they fail people, so it was amazing to dig into this in my own backyard. And I’ve rooted my career in the notion that the buildings and systems that make up the fabric of our cities, can and should be designed to meet the challenges of the 21st century – and be designed to serve all members of our 21st century society, especially those on the margins. States and cities are also recognizing that we need to do things differently, we need different approaches to climate adaptation as traditional agricultural systems come under greater stress.

Efforts to re-localize food production will be one of these different approaches and is a growing trend. As is indoor agriculture that can provide increased yields using fewer resources and climate proof our food supply against extreme weather.

So that’s how we became vertical farmers, designing and operating large scale indoor urban farms that grow better food and futures. We’ve seen how our farm is a new type of infrastructure that embodies conscious and radical inclusion — amplifying the voices of all to cultivate a new and burgeoning industry.

 

Vertical Harvest is expanding into different locations, such as the Westbrook, Maine farm and the recently announced project in Detroit. Can you share more about these projects and how they align with your mission of “feeding locals first” and supporting local food economies?

Vertical Harvest Maine
Vertical Harvest Westbrook rendering.

We imagine and advocate for a food system where everyone has the right to healthy food. Our goal to “feed locals first” prioritizes 70% of our produce going to customers within 150 miles of our farms — for the record we don’t call 400 miles “local” — and to meet the needs of the communities we’re growing in before we tap into wider distribution networks. To achieve this we look at the entire “community-as-our-customer” – so not just retail but also the small and medium businesses that make up the local culinary community as well as stalwart community institutions like hospitals, school systems, nursing homes and college campuses. On top of that we aim to divert 4 – 5 % of our farm’s total output specifically into low-income, low-access (LILA) channels, like food rescue operations and the charitable pantry system.

Vertical Harvest Detroit rendering
Vertical Harvest Detroit Rendering

Because of this focus on local food going to local folks, our farms are intentionally built within urban areas to both bolster the local food system and address food insecurity in the same communities where we farm. Our goal then becomes to replicate this mission across a national network of local farms. This is true in Westbrook, ME, a city in and of itself within the greater Portland Metro area, where we expect to be a meaningful contributor to the New England Food Vision of growing 30% of food locally by 2030. And it’s definitely true in Detroit, where we’re building in the Milwaukee Junction neighborhood with Bedrock Detroit. We’re very excited about exploring an even deeper level of opportunity there to imagine how we can use our farm to connect with all of the revitalization and infrastructure investment happening in that city (coincidentally, also my hometown and recently voted the #1 city in the world for start-ups).

Your commitment to employing people with disabilities and focusing on their abilities is inspiring. Can you elaborate on the impact this approach has had on the lives of your employees and how it has enhanced your company’s performance and mission?

Nona Yehia and Caroline Croft Estay
Vertical Harvest Co-Founders Nona Yehia and Caroline Croft Estay

Employing people with disabilities is personal. I grew up with a brother with developmental disabilities and from an early age, I observed how society treated him differently, with less opportunities. So when we set out to build the country’s first indoor vertical greenhouse, we wanted to implement a one-of-a-kind workforce model, too. Together, with my co-founder, Caroline Croft Estay – a former case manager in Teton County– we imagined “Grow Well,” a customized employment model fostering professional development, personal discovery and community impact. This person-centered approach aligns professional, personal and community components of the workplace to ensure the development of job skills, growth, accountability and engaged citizenship.

Across the country people with disabilities suffer on average an 80% unemployment rate, but at our farms we start by focusing on ability vs disability. And 40% of our folks are
differently-abled. For some we’re they’re first experience of meaningful and stable employment they’ve been offered. Others, even those with college degrees, often found themselves offered only entry level positions like cleaner or dishwasher.

Vertical Harvest Product and PeopleIn our 7 years of operation we’ve helped employees open bank accounts, sign their first lease, reverse evictions, get their driver’s license, earn back their guardianships and acted as health advocates as employees work to coordinate care across multiple doctors and health systems. These are real outcomes of our Grow Well customized employment program that we’re intensely proud of….

But also, our commitment to our people is an absolute brand differentiator. We like to say people come to the farm because they like our story, but they come back because of the quality of the product. We’re not in this for pity pennies – in fact that would undermine our whole mission to prove that neurodiverse minds, different life experiences and a range of perspectives make for stronger teams. And the fact that we are able to weave a great product and a great purpose together earns us tremendous brand loyalty and love.

Sustainability is a key focus for Vertical Harvest. Can you share some of the sustainable practices and technologies you implement in your operations and how they contribute to reducing environmental impact?

We’re committed to continuous improvement and innovation to enhance our own sustainability and in the indoor ag industry at large. We’re collaborating with the Resource Innovation Institute and the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy to create the first of its kind benchmarking report for the CEA sector. This USDA-grant funded program is collecting 4 years of data to inform the strengths and weaknesses of production methods. Additionally, our Wyoming facility acts as an R&D lab to test strategies for maximizing yield, including crop-specific growing and harvesting techniques like optimal lighting, climate controls, rack density and crop transport automation. Our work in that farm has been recognized by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and the U.S. Department of Energy for our sustainable approach to natural and supplemental lighting. And then all future “next generation” farms are designed to be 100% electric. We like to say as the grid gets greener, so are we. And we’re always trying for more sustainable sourcing from our suppliers and keep a close eye on new technologies that enter the market.

What’s next for Vertical Harvest?

We have a roadmap for expansion – in addition to Maine opening and Detroit breaking ground next year, we hope to be announcing another 1 – 2 farms as well. Every farm will share some core features (like the Grow Well model and a commitment to prioritizing local), but also with a level of customization so each farm can adapt to the specific needs of the community they’re rooted in.

The needs of local ethnic communities and their culinary heritage is a great example, and we’re already trialing certain herbs and aromatics that are being requested in Maine. So, just as the farm in Jackson is a reflection of our western heritage and abundant outdoor adventure scene, the farm in Westbrook, ME will take on its own personality adapting to its place, space and culture. And of course, that goes for Detroit too and all our future farms as well, because we believe hope lies in the local. We know that real community is built through the tables we set, who we make a place for and the love and care and nourishment that gets mixed into every dish. We’re excited to dig in!

 

About Nona Yehia

An accomplished architect by training, and principal of GYDE Architects in Jackson Hole, WY, Nona designed North America’s first vertical hydroponic greenhouse and founded Vertical Harvest Farms. Alongside her co-founder, Caroline Croft-Estay, Nona pioneered an inclusive, customized employment model for people with physical and/or intellectual disabilities. Vertical Harvest grew from Nona’s experiences growing up with a brother with developmental disabilities, love of fresh and local food, obsession with great design, and long-standing community involvement. Nona’s dynamic leadership style has led to recognition as a CNN Champion of Change. She is a Tony Hsieh Award Fellow and a Cities Member on World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council. Vertical Harvest is a 2x finalist for Fast Company’s Best Places to Work for Innovators. Nona graduated from the University of Michigan and earned a Masters degree in architecture from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. She resides in Jackson, WY.

Learn more about Nona and Vertical Harvest —visit the company website.

 

Winter Farm Cultivates Success With Integrated Farming Approach, Sustainable Solutions

 

Winter Farm Q&A with Indoor Ag-Con
Winter Farm leaders (L-R) Yves Daoust, Founder and CTO and Alain Brisebois, President and CEO

Winter Farm’s focus on environmental sustainability, achieving food autonomy, and strategic partnerships has garnered attention and headlines, with recent funding of $46 million raising the bar for its ambitious goals. Indoor Ag-Con had the chance to catch up with the innovative Quebec-based company’s leaders — Yves Daoust, Founder and CTO (pictured above left) and Alain Brisebois, President and CEO (pictured above right)  — to discuss the advantages of their approach, their goal of helping growers replace 10% of Canada’s strawberry imports, the renowned Fraise d’hiver strawberry, funding strategies and future opportunities in the CEA industry.

 Winter Farm is described as a “tech company that designs, deploys, and operates controlled environment agriculture (CEA) solutions that work in harmony with existing agrifood systems.” Can you share how your technology and approach differ from other vertical farms and advantages it offers in terms of yield, quality, and cost-effectiveness?

Yves Daoust: Winter Farm’s concept fully integrates a strawberry vertical farm with an adjacent greenhouse: this shows the company’s deep understanding of the grower’s reality. As a result, our strawberry vertical farm is capable of efficiently heating the greenhouse in the wintertime. As heat recuperation is a major concern in controlled environment agriculture (CEA), this solution constitutes a major innovation that reduces the dependence of greenhouses on fossil fuels and lowers their carbon footprint. In addition, the integration allows for additional revenue generation as farmers can grow strawberries in the vertical farm, as well as peppers, lettuce, eggplant, or tomatoes etc. in the greenhouse using the same amount of energy. The Winter Farm solution exemplifies that it is possible for CEA to be both profitable and environmentally sustainable at the same time. To realize this dual objective, we use a multidisciplinary approach to intelligent automation –  integrating producers’ knowledge, agronomy, engineering,  and artificial intelligence (AI). Our system of environmental digital control, CERVEAU, aims to optimize yield, maximize energy efficiency, and improve revenues by fully characterizing the strawberry plant’s behavior in CEA by data,  physical modeling and machine learning.

One of Winter Farm’s goals is to help growers replace 10% of Canada’s strawberry imports.  Can you speak to some of the environmental and economic benefits that could come from achieving this goal, and how Winter Farm is working to make it a reality?

Alain Brisebois: Vertical farming is a promising new agricultural advance that holds potential for sustainable agriculture in the future.  At Winter Farm, in addition to providing efficient heating of the adjacent greenhouse, vertical farming eliminates the need for chemical pesticides well known for their harmful effects on both the environment and human health. Additionally, since Winter Farm allows local production, it minimizes transportation needs, further reducing the carbon footprint of fruit and vegetable production. Further benefits of our production practices include significantly lower water usage compared to traditional field production and the maximization of cultivable areas with the vertical stacking of the production. By utilizing heat management and recovery technology, we enable growers to produce an array of greenhouse produce in winter, thereby jointly promoting food autonomy and generating additional revenues for the growers. Our goal is to offer sustainable solutions for agriculture, not just for Quebec, but for the communities worldwide that face challenges related to food security.

Please share a little more about the Fraise d’hiver Strawberry and what makes it so special. 

Alain Brisebois: Fraise d’hiver literally translate to “winter berry”. Quebec is renowned for its tasty field strawberries. It brings us a lot of pride to be able to offer consumers that special Quebec taste during the winter months!  Thanks to an optimally controlled environment that ensures high quality, freshness and flavor, the Fraise d’hiver strawberry’s natural sweetness and vibrant red color are truly what make it stands out in the market.

Congratulations on the recent announcement of your $46 million raise! We read that this funding is coming from a variety of sources, including government organizations and private partners.  Can you talk about Winter Farm’s approach to securing funding and building strategic partnerships? 

Alain Brisebois: Thank you very much! In an emerging industry like ours, financing is crucial. This funding was especially important to us as it demonstrates that our concept can be successfully integrated into the agricultural industry and that CEA can be both sustainable and profitable. Winter Farm’s approach to securing funding and building strategic partnerships has always been guided by a strong commitment to innovation and a profit-driven mindset. Additionally, our company’s goals and vision are in line with government priorities, such as promoting food autonomy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and developing a more sustainable economy. When we designed the solution, it was paramount that it be eligible to the available agricultural financing and support programs. We have also demonstrated how the agricultural sector can embrace the digital era with cutting-edge technology that is ready to deploy, which has been instrumental in our success so far. Our Vaudreuil location will soon be producing nearly 1 million kilos of strawberries per year, which is a significant achievement for us and the vertical farming movement. We are now thrilled to continue partnering with growers and building new sites!

What do you see as the biggest opportunities for the CEA industry as a whole in years to come, and how is Winter Farm working to seize them?

Yves Daoust: Currently, a major focus in CEA is on energy accessibility and cost. Winter Farm’s success has been based on addressing this aspect from the outset. This has provided us with the momentum to continue building an increasingly sustainable and profitable CEA solution for fresh produce agriculture. Innovation is crucial for the future of the industry, and as such, Winter Farm is committed to furthering our AI-driven work in agronomy and engineering. Our goal is to ensure that our technologies are profitable and accessible to growers worldwide.

To learn more,visit the Winter Farm website. 

 

Talking Automation, Sustainability and Scale With Better Future Farms Co-Founder John McMahon

Earlier this month, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin announced that Better Future Farms, Inc. will build a new hydroponic greenhouse and processing facility on a 61-acre site in the  Louisa County Industrial Air Park. Backed by funding from Generate Capital, a sustainable infrastructure investment and operating platform and a distribution partnership with Taylor Farms,  a leading North American producer of salads and healthy fresh foods, the facility is set to come online in 2024.  In this month’s CEA Q&A, John McMahon, co-founder/chief operating officer of Better Future Farms and founder of Schuyler Greens, shared insights on their decision to locate in central Virginia’s Louisa County , their sustainability initiatives and long term goals for the company.

What led to the decision to build the new greenhouse and processing facility in Louisa County?  What factors made this location the best choice for Better Future Farms?

Better Future Farms Indoor Ag-Con Q and AThe decision was driven by both the site and infrastructure. My business partner David Drescher and I both live in the Charlottesville area, and Louisa County is the next county over.  In central Virginia it’s hard to find the flat terrain needed for a greenhouse facility.  This site had that and the right infrastructure in place in terms of electrical capabilities, natural gas, and proximity to large freeways and distribution logistics.

The local support was another key factor.  We looked at several different counties and once we talked to Louisa County about the project and what it entailed, they were incredibly supportive and became great partners throughout the process.

We also wanted to build our first project in our own backyard in Virginia, as we’re from the area and didn’t want to be on a plane every week. Leveraging our existing relationships in the CEA industry in Virginia also played a role. The state is very enthusiastic about the future of CEA and government agencies and organizations like the   Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership were very supportive and helpful.  And, of course, Virginia itself is a great choice since it puts the facility within a day’s drive of a large population base.

What will differentiate Better Future Farms from other greenhouse/indoor operations?

I’ve been a grower for about 10 years now, so I tend to be a bit cynical when it comes to making big claims. I would say that we’re investing a significant portion of our capital in automation – in the greenhouse, pack line, and growing system.  This decision was influenced by owning and operating a smaller greenhouse for years and recognizing the repetitive tasks that are present in greenhouse operations. The goal of automation is not to replace employees, but to automate the tasks that are repetitive and do not add value, freeing up employees to perform more important tasks.

I see automation is a tool in our toolbox.  We’re not a technology company. At the end of the day, our job is to be a sustainable business that grows lettuce at the right price. The focus of the investment and all our innovations is to do that as efficiently as possible.

Can you share more about your partnership with Taylor Farms?  How will this collaboration help you reach more customers?

Better Future FarmsTaylor Farms is one of the largest salad and fresh cut vegetable processors in the world and all our lettuce will be marketed under Taylor Farms’ Earthbound Farms brand. David and I have both been at this for a long time and we know what it takes to build a brand.  So, we wanted to team up with an existing brand rather than build a new one from scratch.  We talked to several companies and when we met with Taylor Farms, our objectives, philosophies, and values all aligned.

I’m not the type of greenhouse grower seeking to displace field growers.  The way the industry is now, greenhouse/controlled environment agriculture production is miniscule compared to what the large California farms put out.  But these western growers see a need to diversify the supply chain.  Retailers are asking for it because of food safety issues. And, together with post pandemic freight, shipping and other supply chain , water, and weather challenges, it’s gotten more complicated –and more expensive.  Greenhouses/CEA can help diversify the supply chain by allowing these large players to grow product closer to the end user.

We have a great relationship with Taylor Farms and are so excited to be working with them.  For me, starting as a smaller, niche grower, it’s a huge honor to be growing for the largest lettuce producer.

Can you speak to any specific sustainability initiatives or practices that Better Future Farms will implement in its operations and how they align with Generate Capital’s focus on sustainable agriculture?

Generate Capital is a leading ESG public benefit corporation focused heavily on building and financing solutions for clean energy, water, waste, agriculture and more.  They’d been looking at the CEA sector for some time.  While we are their first investment here, I expect they will be very active in this space, and not just with us.

We certainly share their focus on sustainable agriculture and have several sustainability initiatives in our operations.

We are harvesting all our rainwater. Virginia consistently gets 44 inches of rain distributed throughout the year.  We expect that 90-95% of our irrigation will be reclaimed water.  As part of our 14.5-acre facility, we have a 2-acre retention pond that can hold 2.5 million gallons that we’ll be pulling into the greenhouse and using for irrigation.

We’ll also be using 100% LED lights, so there will be no high-pressure sodium lighting and less energy use.

And we’ll always be on the lookout for even more ways to use the least amount of inputs and energy to be as sustainable as possible.

What are your long-term goals for Better Future Farms? What do you hope to achieve in the next few years?

Our goals are to build out multiple facilities in Virginia and other geographical locations, add different products, and grow our partnership with Taylor Farms.

In terms of crops, we’d like to offer different types of lettuce and, possibly, berries.  We want to become a diversified producer. The challenge is you need to marry products that complement each other. For example, lettuce and strawberries work well together because they both travel in the cold chain.  Tomatoes and vine crops need to be on a warmer truck.

What’s next for Schuyler Greens?  Will you still be involved?

I wouldn’t be doing this new project without the knowledge and experience I gained from launching and building Schuyler Greens.  I’ve owned Schuyler Greens for more than 9 years now and it encompasses 225 acres outside of Charlottesville with a greenhouse in the middle. I will be keeping Schuyler Greens separate from Better Future Farms.

Schuyler Greens is better off as a traditional farm with a greenhouse on it as we don’t have access to the infrastructure or flat terrain needed to scale up a large greenhouse. The value for me is that Schuyler Greens is a true working farm with cattle, timber and other resources.

We really live in an Amazon world today.  The pandemic certainly accelerated some of the structural changes and put a spotlight on supply chain issues.  Just like consumers, wholesalers and retailers want product all the time so it’s essential for growers to keep up the pace of demand or risk losing business.

The bottom line is that all farming is economies of scale. To consistently produce every day of the week and be sustainable, reliable, and dependable for your customers –whether you’re a small niche grower or a mega-grower– is hard work.    At Schuyler Greens and Better Future Farms, we’re committed to meeting the needs of our customers and partners and are excited about the future.

To learn more about Better Future Farms, visit   www.betterfuture.farm

To learn more about Schuyler Greens, visit www.schuylergreens.com

The Indoor Farmer Who’s Using Freight Farms to Increase Food Security for the Cayman Islands

In the Cayman Islands, Freight Farms and Primitive Greens are working to overturn the status quo of food supply.

A Freight Farm being Delivered
A Freight Farm being Delivered

With the Cayman Islands’ beauty comes a challenging food supply chain. The islands only produce about 1% of their own food, with the rest of the food they consume sourced from Jamaica, Honduras, and, largely, the United States. Relying on shipped produce results in precarious food security. To make matters worse, there are very few direct shipping lines from food-producing Caribbean islands to the Cayman Islands. With lengthy shipping routes, the fresh food that the Cayman Islands ultimately receives is no longer very fresh … and it’s also very pricey.

Enter Freight Farms’ vertical shipping container farms. Codi Whittaker, a young recent college grad, and business partner Kerry Lawrence purchased three container farms from Freight Farms to launch their business, Primitive Greens, with the goal of increasing the sustainability of life on the Cayman Islands.

A Lettuce Wall in Primitive Greens Freight Farm
A Lettuce Wall in Primitive Greens Freight Farm

The three Freight Farms allow Primitive Greens to defy the very things that make fresh food so scarce on the island: a lack of arable land, extreme weather which makes farming near-impossible, and those long shipping lines. Instead, Primitive Greens grows right near consumers, inside high-tech shipping containers right on Grand Cayman island. They work the container farms’ perfectly climate-controlled environment to their advantage to grow beautiful, coveted produce. This, they sell to grocery stores and restaurants on the island at a competitive price — offering island establishments and residents reasonably priced, long-lasting, quality produce.

A school group visits Primitive Greens
A school group visits Primitive Greens

To increase the sustainability of the business, Primitive Greens plans to install a solar and energy storage microgrid that will fuel the farms with 100% clean energy. Energy cost is up everywhere, and the Cayman Islands are not immune. Currently, Primitive Greens pays the equivalent of $0.40 USD per kilowatt hour of electricity — mostly from dirty diesel fuel offered by the local utility. (By comparison, the current average cost of energy in Los Angeles is about $0.26 USD per kilowatt hour.) The solar project, which features solar panels floating in the water of an old quarry, will not only make growing food more sustainable. It will also provide resiliency to the island, through power that is available 24/7 and independent of the electrical grid.

“We’re basically selling the community cheaper, healthier, more sustainable, locally grown food; we’re providing power for less than half the cost of diesel; we’re creating food security; we’re creating jobs; and we’re not clearing any land.” — Codi Whittaker, Co-Founder and Operator of Primitive Greens

Primitive Greens intends to send Freight Farms to each of the three Cayman Islands, to alleviate food security for the entire territory. Ultimately, they strive to be the providers of fresh produce for Cayman.

Primitive Greens was recently featured in a webinar hosted by Freight Farms on the potential for indoor farming in the Cayman Islands. Watch the conversation at https://www.freightfarms.com/visit-freight-farms/primitive-greens-live-webinar.

Freight Farms has seen incredible growth in the adoption of their technology in the Caribbean islands, many of which face challenges similar to the Cayman Islands’. From Turks and Caicos to the Bahamas, islanders are discovering the power of controlled environment agriculture to revolutionize food quality and access for themselves and their communities.

About Freight Farms:

Founded in 2012, Freight Farms debuted the first vertical hydroponic farm built inside an intermodal shipping container with the mission of democratizing and decentralizing the local production of fresh, healthy food. Since its inception, Freight Farms has refined its product offering to arrive at the Greenery™ S container farm. With global customers ranging from small business farmers to the corporate, hospitality, retail, education, and nonprofit sectors, Freight Farmers make up the largest network of connected farms in the world. AgTech Breakthrough named Freight Farms the 2022 “IoT Monitoring Solution of the Year” for its farmhand® IoT automation software.

To learn more, visit freightfarms.com or connect on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, or TikTok.

The Future Of CEA Is Our Shared Responsibility

People work and harvest in Freight Farms’ container farm, the Greenery™ S

Hi, I’m Rick Vanzura, CEO of Freight Farms. Our vision is a world in which resilient and self-sufficient communities grow through local food and sustainable food systems, which we strive to make a reality through our indoor farming technology. We build our hydroponic farms inside 40’ x 8’ shipping containers that are precisely controlled and climate independent. Each container farm enables farmers to produce 2+ acres of fresh, hyper-local food annually, no matter where in the world they put the farm. This distributed model is central to Freight Farms’ mission. As part of a decentralized network, Freight Farmers — who make up the largest IoT-connected network of commercial farms — have access to the knowledge and support of other growers from around the world via our farmhand® software. This includes hundreds of for-profit, educational, and nonprofit farmers.

A container farm in transit to the Bahamas, where it is being put to work growing produce for the community.

Over the last year, an increased focus on a return for the billions of dollars invested has put the indoor agriculture industry under pressure. This was inevitable and is, to some extent, welcome. It will force all of us to be much more focused on strong business models, energy consumption, and wise allocation of resources. It also will encourage the industry to work together to highlight the advantages of controlled environment agriculture and indoor farming in both the near and distant future. Issues of declining land and water availability will not go away. The population will not stop increasing. Climate change is a reality. We will need all forms of agriculture to mitigate these issues and feed the planet.

Freight Farms
Freight Farms’ container farm, the Greenery™ S, alight with high-power, high-efficiency LED grow lights.

I hope to see many of you at Indoor Ag Con, where we can continue to explore the issues and opportunities facing the industry and find ways to collaborate. CEA and indoor farming take many forms, but we share a common goal of providing climate-independent access to food around the world. Let’s tackle the pressing issues of energy usage and business model viability to continue to prove our value to both consumers and the planet. As the current investor climate illustrates, we have no time to waste. A win for any of us is a win for all of us.

About Freight Farms:

Freight FarmsFounded in 2012, Freight Farms debuted the first vertical hydroponic farm built inside an intermodal shipping container with the mission of democratizing and decentralizing the local production of fresh, healthy food. Since its inception, Freight Farms has refined its product offering to arrive at the Greenery™ S container farm. With global customers ranging from small business farmers to the corporate, hospitality, retail, education, and nonprofit sectors, Freight Farmers make up the largest network of connected farms in the world. AgTech Breakthrough named Freight Farms the 2022 “IoT Monitoring Solution of the Year” for its farmhand® IoT automation software.

 

To learn more, visit freightfarms.com , an 2023 Indoor Ag-Con sponsor or connect on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, or TikTok.

good natured® Provides High-tech Growers with Plant-based Packaging to Maximize Positive Environmental Impact

good natured Products Inc. (the “Company” or “good natured®”) (TSX-V: GDNP), a North American leader in earth-friendly plant-based products and Indoor Ag-Con 2023 exhibitor (booth 228) continues to grow its market traction with fast-growing food producers who are taking a fresh approach to supplying plant-based, nutritional foods to communities across North America. A growing population, changing climate conditions and consumers’ desire to support local suppliers is creating opportunity for innovative food producers to introduce new crops and next-gen sustainable agriculture practices that are easier on the planet than some traditional growing methods.

One customer, Heron Farms in South Carolina, is turning sea level rise into sustainable agriculture, one delicious Sea Bean at a time. Heron Farms is North America’s premiere indoor saltwater vertical farm that grows salt-tolerant crops such as sea beans, sea pickles and sea asparagus using predictive software and cutting-edge automated data collection and analysis methods. At the forefront of sustainable farming practices, Heron Farms distributes to retail, restaurants, and food service industries throughout 14 US states.

“We’re on a mission to solve two of the 21st century’s largest environmental problems, rising sea water levels and excess carbon dioxide. We strategically chose plant-based packaging from good natured® as the best option to extend our brand values beyond the product we produce all the way through to the packaging itself,” explained Sam Norton, Founder and CEO of Heron Farms.

Meanwhile, ColdAcre in Whitehorse, Yukon is taking sustainable growing practices to the next level by providing year-round fresh food and growing solutions for far northern climates. ColdAcre provides wholesale and commercial fresh grown food in plant-based, certified compostable packaging from good natured®, which is distributed through small independent grocers through to large chains, such as Save-On-Foods in the Yukon. ColdAcre is the only year-round food producer of greens in the Yukon and sells their farming system across Canada and the Arctic. Their systems source local jobs, reduce supply chain dependency and bring high-quality fresh produce to communities making them more self-sufficient and sustainable.

Indoor Ag-Con 2023 Exhibitor Good Natured“We made it a mandate when we started ColdAcre that we wouldn’t contribute to the single-use plastics problem that’s top of mind for many Canadians. We’ve been very pleased to be able to work with our like-minded partner good natured® as we prepare to triple our production in the coming months and offer our products in plant-based, compostable packaging,” said Tarek Bos-Jabber, CEO of ColdAcre.

The good natured® corporate profile can be found at: investor.goodnaturedproducts.com

About good natured Products Inc.
good natured® is passionately pursuing its goal of becoming North America’s leading earth-friendly product company by offering the broadest assortment of eco-friendly options made from plants instead of petroleum. We’re all about making it easy and affordable for business owners and consumers to switch to better everyday products® made from renewable materials and free from chemicals of concern.

Part of the sustainable consumer goods market, good natured® offers over 400 products and services through wholesale and retail channels, including our own e-commerce stores. From plant-based home organization products to compostable food containers, bioplastic industrial supplies and medical packaging, we’re focused on delivering a great customer experience to make more plant-based products readily accessible to more people as the path to deliver meaningful environmental and social impact.

For more information: goodnaturedproducts.com

The Center of Excellence for Indoor Agriculture Announces New Service to Assess Farm Operations Efficiency and Sustainability

The Center of Excellence for Indoor Agriculture, a U.S. based company that supports the growth of the vertical and indoor farming industry, announced a new assessment service for farmers and investors to bench-mark the efficiency and sustainability of their indoor farm operations.

The new service helps indoor growers including plant factories and greenhouses measure how much land, energy, water, labor and materials are needed to produce yields. The assessment also calculates by-products such as solid waste and waste water, as well as capital use efficiency and job creation by the venture. At the end of the assessment, the respondent receives a report detailing the status of key parameters. Most importantly, key metrics are bench-marked against similar farms so growers can target areas for improvement. To get started, identify key records and contact the Center to set up an appointment to start. More info is available at https://indooragcenter.org/sustainable-farm-assess/. 

 

 

Eric W. Stein, Ph.D., founder and Executive Director of the Center of Excellence notes, “Indoor farming is a high-risk capital intensive endeavor. Operating efficiently and sustainably can make the difference between profitability and loss. We are excited to work with growers and investors to improve their operations thereby de-risking the venture. Because of its importance, we are offering this service at or below cost for a limited time.”

About The Center

The Center of Excellence for Indoor Agriculture provides insights about the economics of indoor farming based on a careful analysis of industry data and thought leaders in industry and academia. As the first U.S.-based Center of Excellence dedicated to indoor farming, it promotes best practices, bench-marking, new knowledge and research. Its Best in Class Indoor Farming AwardsTM recognize top indoor growers and manufacturers. The Center is located in the Philadelphia metro region and it is free to join the mailing list.

Media Contact Information

Web: https://indooragcenter.org/ Email: team@indooragcenter.org

Widening The Net: World’s Largest Sustainable Indoor Fishery Eyes Aquaponics

Blue Ridge AquacultureAs we gear up for the new CEA Summit East next month, we’re excited to spotlight exhibitor and sponsor Martinsville, Virgina-based Blue Ridge Aquaculture, the world’s largest sustainable indoor fishery. We had the chance to catch up with company President Martin Gardner in this month’s Q & A to learn more about Blue Ridge Aquaculture’s sustainable business model, practices, and plans to incorporate aquaponics into its operations in the future.

Blue Ridge Aquaculture is described as the “world’s largest sustainable indoor fisheries.” Can you share more about your recirculating aquaculture systems and your sustainable features and practices

Blue Ridge Aquaculture (BRA) was founded by Bill Martin on the idea that controlling the entire farming environment was the logical evolution of aquaculture.  He formed the company in 1993, and has grown it to its current production of 5mm pounds per year. As far as we know, that is the largest production volume from these types of systems.  The company raises tilapia from hatch to harvest, all contained in indoor farming systems, or Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS).

The US lags far behind many other countries in the aquaculture production, currently ranking 17th in total output.  The US is not competitive for several reasons, including but not limited to stringent environmental regulations, NIMBY attitudes, and high labor costs, all of which are solved by RAS.  Bringing the entire process into a controlled environment, we manage all inputs and outflows from our operations.  With much better bio-security, we have not had an outbreak or disease event in twenty years.  In fact, we have been certified disease free by independent fish veterinarians every year since 2013.

We are able to accomplish this without the use of antibiotics, vaccines or hormones, and still maintain survival rates above 95%.  Our filtration systems recycle approximately 75% of our water daily, and we are working on a secondary filtration system that will drive those rates to +95%.  We don’t discharge our effluent to our local environment, all of it goes to the municipal system for further treatment.  From a land-use perspective, it would require at least 300 acres of open aquaculture ponds to produce what we raise on a 15 acre campus.  Because most of the seafood consumed in the US is imported (+90%), our US operations greatly reduce food-miles.  These are just some of the sustainable benefits of our system.

We understand you’re exploring expansion into aquaponics – can you share more about your plans

Aquaponics - Blue Ridge AquacultureAquaponics is an obvious extension of our current operations, and we have been working towards adding this component to our operations for some time. We have performed several small-scale R&D projects over the years, with favorable results.

But, with limited resources, we had to prioritize other capital projects, including a new feed mill commissioned in 2018, and a new RAS Nursery in 2021.  With those projects complete, we can now focus on aquaponics.

The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR)  and Indoor Ag-Con are excited to have Blue Ridge Aquaculture join us as a silver sponsor for the upcoming CEA Summit.  Can you share a little more about what you hope to achieve at the event?

Blue Ridge AquacultureBlue Ridge Aquaculture has a long history in the US Aquaculture and the global RAS community.  It is important for us to build that same presence in this industry.  We will continue to support Virginia as a leader in CEA and AgTech.  Virginia Tech has been a tremendous resource for our company assisting our growth and development over the years.  We anticipate Virginia Tech and the IALR will be an important asset as we grow into  this space as well.  Because of that collaboration, it was important for us to support their outreach efforts and this conference.

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

It’s important to point out the importance of vertical integration in our company.  BRA has positioned itself as the most integrated RAS company in the world.  Originally this was out of necessity.  In the early years, RAS was more of an academic practice with few commercial operations.  Suppliers of inputs to the farm were focused on open system aquaculture, and did not provide the quality necessary for RAS.

The company originally sourced fingerlings from external suppliers, which were of average quality and more importantly, a vector for disease.  In 1997, the company started its own hatchery/nursery.  The positive impacts were immediate, and production volumes grew quickly.  That was also the beginning of the company’s genetic program, which is currently in its 20th generation, and a key factor in the company’s success.  Distribution was also a problem and risk for the company.

So in 2003, the company created a wholly owned subsidiary for the dedicated delivery of all of its product-  problems solved.  In 2017, the company built its own feed mill to control the quality and supply of feed for all operations.  That gave us control over our biggest operating input.

We understand that “sustainable” refers to environmental and social aspects of the operations.  But financial sustainability must be a part of the business plan.  BRA is one of the few RAS companies that has sustained profitability for many years.  Vertical integration has been key to this success, but, more importantly, de-risks our operations to ensure it remains financially sustainable into the future.

To learn more about Blue Ridge Aquaculture, visit the company website here.   And, make plans now to just us at the inaugural CEA Summit East, October 24-25, 2022.  The event is produced by Indoor Ag-Con and the Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center, a partnership between the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Virginia Tech , the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Virginia Tech and the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR). 

 

‘Any Step Closer to Climate Neutrality Is An Important One’ | Q&A With Netled CEO Niko Kivioja   

Netled_IndoorAgContentVertical farming technology provider Netled and its client, Swedish herb supplier OMG (Oh My Greens), recently launched the first industrial-scale vertical farm delivering Climate Neutral Certified herbs from seed to shelf.  Indoor Ag-Con had the chance to catch up with Netled CEO Niko Kivioja to learn more about this exciting project, why it’s so important, and what’s on the horizon for this innovative company in this month’s CEO Q&A.

Why did OMG Choose Netled’s VERA® Technology for its new industrial scale vertical farm?

Swedish herb supplier OMG (Oh My Greens) produces 2.7 million heads of herbs annually for ICA, the leading grocery retailer in Sweden. Building a major facility with that kind of production capacity is very complex. OMG needed a technology provider who truly understands the technology and also has the experience and project delivery capabilities to carry out a project of that scale.

Oh My Greens industrial scale facility.indooragcontentWe call ourselves the one-stop shop for vertical farming, which means that on top of our proprietary Vera® technology we offer all services and support needed to build a commercially viable vertical farming business. This means we provide our customers with the design and planning of their facility, we ship the equipment, and we build, install and commission the farm. We support our customers in getting their farm up to production volumes. We also provide a five-year maintenance agreement to ensure the technology performs optimally.

It can be challenging to combine technology and services from different companies and ensure they work smoothly together. Plus you have to manage the various companies involved in the project. With Netled, you get the entire package under one roof. It’s simpler for the customer because all the various bits and pieces you need to build an industrial-scale vertical farm work seamlessly together. In a facility the size of the OMG project, those bits and pieces amount to around 120 000. So it’s no small feat.

OMG really did their homework in selecting a vertical farming partner. They will tell you themselves that they looked at 17 different providers before choosing Netled. They said that we are years ahead of the competition in terms of technology, know-how, and delivery capabilities. We are honored by that recognition.

What attracted you/Netled to the OMG project

OMG has the same level of ambition as we do: they want to succeed at vertical farming at an industrial scale and continue to grow from there. Our Vera® vertical farming technology is designed in a way that it’s scalable according to the customers’ needs and business case. The size and ambition of OMG’s project was perfect for our technology and service offerings. The growing area is about 25 800 square feet (2400 m2), and it is a big difference to make the automation work smoothly in that volume compared to smaller units.

Oh My Greens Vera vertical farm 2.indooragcontent
Photo Credit: ICA

We are also impressed by the fact that OMG’s customer is ICA, the largest retailer in Sweden. It is a very important step for us that such a significant player in the food retail industry takes a step towards vertically farmed products and sells them under their private label. Like us, they want to be at the forefront of developing a sustainable food system for the future.

We are very happy to see this development happening with big players like ICA, and we think it’s a good sign for the entire CEA industry. Vertically farmed produce is becoming more and more mainstream, and consumers will soon learn more about the benefits of this production method. Netled carried out consumer research this spring, and we found that only 11 % of Finnish consumers really knew what vertical farming was about. However, 95 % of the respondents were willing to buy vertically farmed products after learning more about the production method and its benefits.

It is clear that when major retailers incorporate vertically farmed products into their own store brand, it will open new conversations for us as technology providers.

The farm is described as the ‘first vertical farm in the world delivering Climate Neutral Certified herbs from seed to shelf.’  Can you share more about this designation and why it’s so important.

Oh My Greens Vera vertical farm.IndoorAgContent
Photo Credit: ICA

We are all in this battle against climate change together, and any step closer to climate neutrality is an important one for both OMG and Netled.

OMG is the first vertical cultivation in the world to deliver Climate Neutral Certified herbs following the Climate Neutral Certification programme. The owner of the standard is The Climate Neutral Group, a member of ICROA, the International Carbon Reduction & Offsetting Alliance. They follow strict criteria in terms of Verified Emission Reductions (VERs), and verification is carried out by independent, internationally recognized agencies.

Within this certificate, climate neutrality means both CO2 footprint reduction and compensation. OMG calculates their emissions footprint on a granular level including ingredients, storage, production, packaging, mobility, and upstream and downstream logistics until the products reach the shelf. The facility is built in an old steel factory and it operates with renewable energy: wind power. The remaining CO2 emissions are compensated by supporting an NGO’s agroforestry project of 214 hectares in India. The ultimate goal is to reduce the emissions every year until they reach a 0-emission supply chain.

Netled_WEB_4.indooragcontentNetled’s Vera® technology is designed to be as energy and resource-efficient as possible using up to 70% less energy and up to 95% less water than traditional indoor agriculture. It also allows customers to grow 2.5 times more crops in the same amount of space as greenhouse growing.

OMG’s vision is a world where food production is truly sustainable, and we as their technology provider are working towards the same goal. We are constantly striving to reduce emissions and this will be a work in progress as we develop our technology and processes.

What’s next for Netled – any other projects of this scale or other developments on the horizon?

We recently opened our first North American Vera® vertical farm as part of the launch of Netled North America in Calgary, Canada. The vertical farm in Calgary is a showcase facility for North American customers who want to see our Vera® technology firsthand. The demo unit features the same Vera® technology, but on a smaller scale. It will allow potential customers to see the technology up close and discuss their requirements with our experienced team in Calgary.

Netled_WEB_3.indooragcontentIn terms of other projects, we have just finished commissioning a compact-size Vera® farm in Poland, and we are currently building another industrial-scale facility in the Nordics. We are in the negotiating phase with other clients on some very exciting commercial-scale projects in Europe and North America, stay tuned for more details!

Learn more about Netled by visiting the company’s website — www.netled.fi