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Infinite Acres Opens Agricultural Research Center In The Hague

Collaboration between Infinite Acres and partner companies promises to accelerate growth in the vertical farming industry

 

Infinite Acres, a technology-focused subsidiary of the American vertical farming company 80 Acres Farms, has  opened a first-of-its-kind research center at its Dutch headquarters.

For nearly a decade, 80 Acres Farms has been a global leader in the vertical farming industry, with facilities in the United States and Europe. Today, the company’s production farms supply fresh produce and grab-and-go meals to more than 1,500 retail locations across the eastern United States.

Working with best-in-class technology partners to design, build, and maintain those farms, the Infinite Acres team recognized an opportunity for closer collaboration. The Infinite Acres Field Lab and Experience Center, located near the Dutch greenhouses that have led the world in high-tech agriculture for decades, is a hub for industrial innovation and sustainable solutions.

“Innovation requires collaboration,” says Tisha Livingston, CEO of Infinite Acres and co-founder of 80 Acres Farms. “By bringing partners into our research center, we’re closing a feedback loop and accelerating our learnings, for the benefit of farmers everywhere. This is a collaborative space where we can innovate to solve global problems.” By shortening supply chains, reducing food waste, and producing more food with fewer resources, vertical farming promises a healthier and more sustainable future.

At the Field Lab and Experience Center, researchers and experts from Infinite Acres will work side-by-side with partner companies, including Siemens, Signify, SICK, and TTA, which are directly supporting the project. The facility will also be open to student researchers. Infinite Acres is a member of Wageningen University’s Club of 100, and the company hopes to further its collaboration with Wageningen while engaging TU Delft and other Dutch and American universities.

“With challenges like a growing population and climate change, which, amongst many other severe consequences leads to soil degradation, we must rethink traditional food production. Digitalization and cutting-edge technologies such as AI are key to scale the sustainability impact in food production and vertical farming industry, and it is people who develop this technology to positively impact others,” stated Dirk De Bilde, CEO of Siemens Nederland. “The opening of the Field Lab and Experience Center is an important milestone and sets a new standard for collaboration in vertical farming. It shows our shared commitment to a more sustainable future.”

About Infinite Acres
Infinite Acres is a Dutch-American technology company with a green thumb. A subsidiary of 80 Acres Farms founded in 2019, Infinite Acres combines Dutch horticultural technology with American manufacturing and processing technology for industry-leading innovation in hardware, software, and plant genetics.

About 80 Acres Farms
80 Acres Farms is a vertical farming leader based in Hamilton, Ohio. Founded by Mike Zelkind and Tisha Livingston in 2015, the company operates indoor farms built with world-class technology and analytics by its Dutch-American technology subsidiary, Infinite Acres. Using 100% renewable electricity and 95% less water per pound of produce, the company’s farms provide consumers with a range of pesticide-free harvests that last longer at home, reducing food waste and exceeding the highest standards in food safety. Consumers can find the company’s branded salads, salad kits, herbs, microgreens, and tomatoes at more than 1,500 retailers and restaurants across the eastern United States.

Vertical Harvest Farms Secures USDA Loan Guarantee & Maine’s First C-PACE Funding for Industry-leading Project Financing

Deal Recognizes Power of Public-Private Partnerships to Bolster State’s Food System

Vertical Harvest Farms, an indoor farming company focused on customized employment for people with disabilities, is proud to announce the closing of $59.5 million in project financing to develop and operate a 51,000 square-foot hydroponic vertical farm in downtown Westbrook, Maine.

The project is a critical piece of the state’s food system infrastructure and will significantly contribute to the New England Food Vision, where the region’s six states committed to a goal of locally producing 30 percent of the food consumed in the region by 2030 (and 50 percent of the region’s food by 2060), by producing approximately 2.5 million pounds of fresh, leafy greens every year – ranging from mature lettuce, petite greens, microgreens and herbs.

This project also aligns with Vertical Harvest’s “feed locals first” philosophy and goal of providing greens from farm-to-fridge within 24 hours. In this way, the company helps New Englanders avoid the 30 percent loss of nutritional value that occurs within three days of harvest, which widely affects the produce shipped into the region from California, Arizona and abroad. It also significantly helps mitigate food waste by providing longer shelf life and less shrinkage at the retail and institutional level. The company offers these benefits while fulfilling its dual mission to grow food and futures by offering meaningful employment for people with disabilities in this emerging, tech-forward sector.

Vertical Harvest CEO Nona Yehia said, “We’re on a mission to grow food as local, fresh and fair as possible, and ensure there’s a place at the table for everyone in the future of food.”

As the US became a net food importer for the first time ever in 2023, stakeholders are realizing that traditional agriculture is under greater stress from extreme weather, water scarcity and climate change. This has made diversifying food production, leveraging technologic innovations, shortening supply chains, and ensuring access to fresh local food for years to come, imperative. USDA Rural Development recognizes this as well and is incentivizing efforts to future proof the food system.

“As ‘The People’s Department’ we are happy to support fresh food, and good jobs here in Maine, as well as the equity of access to both. USDA Rural Development is committed to building communities and feeding Mainers, and we look forward to Vertical Harvest being a part of the team fulfilling those shared goals,” said USDA Rural Development Maine State Director, Rhiannon Hampson.

This funding also aligns with the CEA Industry’s shift to project-level financing. Vertical Harvest is excited by the public and private partners that made this deal possible.

“We are thrilled to provide financing and partner with Vertical Harvest. Through two pioneer programs from the USDA and other community facilities, we were able to creatively structure this challenging project. We believe this will have a tremendous impact on the local community and the future of food production,” said Alexios Georgousis, Madison One CUSO.

The funding was led by Madison One and supported by Waterside Commercial Finance. The financing includes $25 million and $23,795,000 loans that utilize USDA Rural Development Business & Industry Loan Guarantees and Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Loans, respectively.

This financing is supplemented by a $8,655,189 Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) loan – the first in Maine administered by the Efficiency Maine Green

Bank and issued through Nuveen Green Capital – and $2,000,000 of American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funding through the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME).

“We are pleased to have approved Vertical Harvest for this funding through the Efficiency Maine Green Bank in partnership with one of our capital providers, Nuveen Green Capital,” said James Neal, senior manager for finance initiatives at Efficiency Maine. “We strongly encourage more of Maine’s municipalities to follow Westbrook’s example and adopt this ordinance so their local businesses can take advantage of this unique pathway to finance energy improvements, such as upgrading lighting or installing heat pump systems for heating and cooling in their buildings.”

In addition, borrower and partner contributions of $19,189,210 are possible thanks to partners such as Crossroads Impact Corp, Enhanced Capital, Foundation Credit, Waterside Commercial Finance, Maine Technology Institute, and others.

“Public-private partnerships benefit a wider group of stakeholders than private capital can alone,” said Enhanced Capital’s Chief Impact Officer and Managing Director Gingee Prince. “In 2017, we partnered with Vertical Harvest to pioneer this space and are excited to see them building even more ambitious capital coalitions today.”

This array of funding follows Vertical Harvest’s model of using public-private partnerships to catalyze resilience within a state’s food system. The company believes this financing model, piloted in Wyoming and now proven in Maine, will pave the way for financing future farms such as the company’s next facility in Detroit, Michigan to be developed in partnership with Bedrock. By bringing together municipal, state and federal funding alongside private capital, not only is the company relocalizing production of perishable produce closer to consumers, but because of Vertical Harvest’s social mission, delivering outsized impact, inclusively.

About Vertical Harvest
Vertical Harvest is a hydroponic, vertical farming company dedicated to community-oriented farms, food and futures. In addition to their passion for local, healthy food grown sustainably, Vertical Harvest also operates on an inclusive, customized employment model with farms designed for accessibility and staffed via hiring practices developed to support meaningful employment for people with disabilities. For more information visit www.verticalharvestfarms.com and sign up for the newsletter, or https://verticalharvestfarms.com/invest-in-vertical-harvest/ to learn about a community raise or follow on socials at @verticalharvestfarms.

The Packer: Going Dark | Square Roots Explores Indoor Vertical Farming Without Light

This Story By Aaron Gonzalez Ran In The Packer April 8, 2024 Edition

The PackerNew York-based controlled environment agriculture company Square Roots has unveiled a program that aims to remove lighting from commercial indoor vertical farming systems to reduce energy demands and costs.

Through partnerships and focused research, the company says it is exploring techniques like heterotrophic growing to operate indoor farms in the dark, with the goal of lower production costs and environmental impact while maintaining year-round fresh food production.

(Photo above courtesy of Square Roots) 

“Over the last 12 months Square Roots has created a platform to accelerate agricultural research, working with partners across both indoor and outdoor farming, alongside science-focused organizations and foundations,” Square Roots co-founder and CEO Tobias Peggs told The Packer.

The program seeks to demonstrate that light can be removed from a commercial indoor vertical farming system; the benefits of indoor farming remain, but the system can now operate with radically reduced energy needs. This translates directly to significantly lower production costs and associated carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2e, he said.

SCIENTIFIC BACKING, SUPPORTED BY COLLABORATION

To enable this new approach, Square Roots is working with gene-edited CRISPR plants that add biomass by uptaking carbon through their root systems rather than relying on photosynthesis under light. The underlying science was initially developed by Robert Jinkerson, a specialist in artificial photosynthesis at the University of California, Riverside, in conjunction with Feng Jiao, a chemist at the University of Delaware.

Read complete story at The Packer >>

Indoor Ag Con 2024 Boosts Worldwide Attendance At Largest Event To Date

16% Attendance Increase For Las Vegas March 11-12, 2024 Event That Drew CEA Industry Members from 49 U.S. States, 31 Countries

(MARCH 18, 2024) — Indoor Ag-Con marked its 11th edition with increases in attendee and exhibitor participation for its March 11-12, 2024 run at Caesars Forum Las Vegas. The exhibiting company roster grew by 54% with a sold-out show floor featuring 207 companies in 287 booths vs. 134 companies in 174 booths for 2023. Attendance saw a 16% increase over 2023 with 1584 attendees from 49 states, the District of Columbia and US territories, as well as 31 other countries. Attendees included C-level execs and other decision-makers involved with every sector of controlled environment agriculture — grower/operators, investors, tech providers, start-ups, academia, government, real estate developers, food service retail, suppliers and more.

For the third year, Indoor Ag-Con once again co-located with the National Grocers Association (NGA) Show, attracting 146 attendees from that event to the Indoor Ag-Con expo floor — taking the total attendance number over the 1700 mark.

“Every year our speakers, exhibitors and attendees from across the country and globe look forward to Indoor Ag-Con as it brings together our industry as a community to hold important discussions on timely topics and show off what’s new in indoor agriculture,” said Brian Sullivan, CEO, Indoor Ag-Con. “This year we experienced record exhibitor growth and attracted companies and attendees from 35 countries to our global event. Next year, we are moving to a new location providing more expo and meeting space as we continue to grow with this ever-evolving industry.”

Among the 11th Annual Edition highlights:

indoor ag-con 2025Keynote Sessions
Each year, Indoor Ag-Con features three inspiring Keynotes and this year’s all-star speakers included Paul Sellew, Founder and CEO of Little Leaf Farms. A mid-morning keynote on day one, “Leader Insights: Charting the Future Landscape of Controlled Environment Agriculture”, was  led by industry veterans Moderator, Daniel Malech, Board Chair, SVP CEA Alliance for Plenty, Jim DiMenna, President of Red Sun Farms, Viraj Puri, Co-Founder and CEO of Gotham Greens, and Matt Ryan, CEO of Soli Organic. Adam Bergman, Managing Director, Clean Energy Transition Group, Global Head of AgTech for Citi, delivered the day two morning keynote address.

Indoor Ag-Con 2025Educational Tracks & Expo Floor Theater Panel Discussions
The Conference features two jam-packed days of educational and insightful sessions from 90+ speakers in four tracks including Planning & Operations, Grower, Cultivating Possibilities and NEW this year, the Cannabis track.

Sold Out Expo Floor
In 2024, the Expo Hall grew and expanded boasting 207 world-class companies in 287 Booths that showcased the most cutting-edge technologies, products and services in the indoor agriculture industry from lighting and control systems to substrates, equipment, irrigation systems.

Networking Opportunities
Daily lunches and an afternoon cocktail reception on the expo floor expanded the show’s networking opportunities.

Indoor Ag-Con |Philips VIP Welcome Party
Back by popular demand, Philips Horticulture LED Solutions teamed up once again with Indoor Ag-Con to tee-up the 2024 edition with a VIP Welcome Par-tee on Sunday evening, March 10 at Topgolf Las Vegas.  Indoor Ag-Con conference speakers and other industry VIPs came together for an incredible evening of golf, networking, cocktails, food, music and fun – all compliments of Philips LED Horticultural Lighting.

Looking ahead, Indoor Ag-Con Las Vegas will move to the Westgate Las Vegas for its March 11-12, 2025 edition.  The new location provides additional expo floor and meeting room space to accommodate the event’s steady growth.

For more information, please visit www.indoor.ag.

ABOUT:

Founded in 2013, Indoor Ag-Con has emerged as the largest trade show and conference for vertical farming | greenhouse |controlled environment agriculture. Its events are crop-agnostic and touch all sectors of the business, covering produce, legal cannabis | hemp, alternate protein and non-food crops. More information, visit www.indoor.ag.

 

 

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The Center of Excellence for Indoor Agriculture Announces Partnership With Microclimates, Inc.

The Center of Excellence for Indoor Agriculture, a U.S. based company that supports the growth of the vertical farming and greenhouse industry, announced a partnership with Microclimates, a software development company that provides farms with a platform that offers monitoring, control, data analytics and automation to growers.

The new partnership is designed to assist growers from start-up to farm-build to continued operations. The Center brings its business planning, financial analysis, venture strategy and farm operations assessment expertise to the partnership. Microclimates brings its expertise in platform development and software solutions for lighting, climate, fertigation, irrigation, layered mapping and energy management to the partnership. Together they offer clients a robust set of solutions for indoor farm development and growth.

Eric W. Stein, Ph.D., founder and Executive Director of the Center of Excellence notes, “We are delighted to work with Neda Vaseghi and Loren West at Microclimates. They have built a robust and easy-to-use software platform that helps indoor growers to succeed. One of the challenges for growers is to operate a farm in an efficient and sustainable way in order to achieve profitability. Their solution provides a high level of monitoring, control, and automation at an affordable price point.”

Neda Vaseghi, CEO and co-founder of Microclimates says, “We are thrilled to be partnering with the Center of Excellence and Dr. Eric Stein. His unparalleled expertise in indoor agriculture, technology innovation, and sustainable practices perfectly complements our mission to revolutionize CEA. With Dr. Stein’s visionary leadership and our commitment to cutting-edge environmental automation, supported by integration of silos and hardware- agnostic approach, we are poised to unlock new possibilities and drive transformative impact in the agriculture industry. Together, we look forward to shaping a more efficient, sustainable, and resilient future for growers.”

About The Center: The Center of Excellence for Indoor Agriculture provides business expertise and analytical advisory services to investors, entrepreneurs, industry partners, and community organizers to de-risk the process of building sustainable and profitable indoor vertical farms and greenhouses. Services include strategy, due diligence, economic and technical feasibility analysis, market research and analysis, operations assessment, sustainable methods, training and development. The Center and its partners offer indoor farm design solutions based on sustainable architectural design and optimal operations management principles. As the first U.S.-based Center of Excellence dedicated to indoor farming, it promotes best practices, benchmarking, best in class solutions and research. The Center is located in the Philadelphia metro region.

About Microclimates, Inc. Microclimates is a software company that offers a platform for monitoring, control, automation, and data analytics for various aspects of controlled environment agriculture (CEA), including lighting, climate (HVAC), watering, nutrient dosing, energy monitoring, and maps. Its solution aims to address the current scenario where most CEA systems operate independently, functioning as isolated entities. The Microclimates platform seamlessly unifies monitoring & control systems, while providing a hardware- agnostic model. This integration provides users with a centralized software interface, simplifying management by reducing the number of controllers to oversee. Additionally, it brings about cost savings through labor reduction, mitigates risks associated with the use of multiple control systems, harmonizes data across various components, and facilitates informed, data-driven decision-making for operators.

Indoor Ag-Con 2024 Features Shark Tank Entrepreneur

Running March 11 & 12, the Indoor Ag-Con is the largest vertical farming/controlled environment agricultural gathering. One of the new Exhibitors this year was featured on ABC Shark Tank’s popular 100th Episode.

John D. Smith of ViteWall (pronounced like “vitamin”) invented a plastic Drywall Alternative that is made for indoor irrigation required by the vertical farming industry. ViteWall takes just 2 hours to be installed in a room (versus over 2 days for drywall) and has a dual-sided radiant barrier to save electricity. This can reduce 20 to 30% of heat or cold.

Smith was recently quoted in AgWeek: “Ag producers are doing things themselves, so our ViteWalls go up easy and fast, plus are made of PolyPropylene Plastic so they can be easily power-washed. ViteWalls offer a dual sided Foil + White Radiant Barrier to save energy, plus are flame retardant, unlike drywall.”

Visit Vitewall Plastic Drywall Alternative Wall Systems in booth 1321!

Industry Leaders From Gotham Greens, Plenty, Red Sun Farms, Soli Organic Join Keynote Line-Up For Indoor Ag-Con Las Vegas 2024

Top Execs Share Insights on  Future Landscape of Controlled Environment Agriculture

Indoor Ag-Con is excited to announce its third keynote address, “Leader Insights: Charting the Future Landscape of Controlled Environment Agriculture,” led by industry veterans on Monday, March 11 at 11am. The keynote will feature Moderator, Daniel Malech, Board Chair of the CEA Alliance and SVP, Plenty, Jim DiMenna, President of Red Sun Farms, Viraj Puri, Co-Founder and CEO of Gotham Greens, and Matt Ryan, CEO of Soli Organic.

In this compelling keynote presentation, attendees will discover the foresight from industry leaders as they share their predictions, strategies, and unique perspectives on the emerging trends that will shape the landscape of controlled environment agriculture. Attendees will gain valuable insights to stay ahead in this dynamic field and be part of the conversation that is charting the course for the future of sustainable and innovative food production.

This panel joins the Indoor Ag-Con 2024 headliner keynote line-up, which also includes the opening morning kick-off session with Paul Sellew, CEO, Little Leaf Farms and the day two morning keynote from Adam Bergman, Global Head of Agtech for Citi. These all-star leaders and keynotes will engage and inspire attendees.

“We are excited to bring this panel of CEA industry leaders to our keynote stage to offer insider tips and predictions shaped by real world experience. The keynote will provide key takeaways about the future of indoor agriculture, as it holds tremendous promise as a sustainable solution to the challenges posed by traditional farming methods,” said Brian Sullivan, CEO, Indoor Ag-Con.

In addition to Indoor Ag-Con’s Keynotes, the event will feature educational panels, sessions and other presentation formats aligned in several Conference tracks.  Attendees will also enjoy quality networking events and explore an expanded expo floor bringing together 200+ suppliers and service providers representing the top names and emerging leaders in the controlled environment agriculture sector. For more information on the full line-up of sessions, exhibitors and events, please visit www.indoor.ag.

Daniel Malech, Board Chair, CEA Alliance & SVP, Plenty

Dan chairs the Board of Directors of indoor agriculture trade association the CEA Alliance, with a focus on developing category-wide metrics and guidelines as well as policy advocacy.  Dan is also the SVP of Strategy & General Counsel at Plenty, where he oversees corporate strategy, legal, compliance, government affairs and sustainability. His work helps drive scale for the indoor vertical farming company, including structuring and closing on multiple industry-leading strategic partnerships and financing rounds.

Jim DiMenna, Red Sun Farms

Jim DiMenna is the President of Red Sun Farms, one of the largest vertically integrated high-tech greenhouse vegetable growers with ownership of each stage of the process; seed selection, to plant growth, to harvesting, packaging and distribution. Red Sun Farms has over 800 acres throughout Mexico, USA and Canada. Born and raised in Leamington Ontario, the produce business has always been a part of Jim’s  life. As a teen, he worked his way up from the packing room into sales and marketing before starting his own firm J-D Marketing in 1990. In 2001, Jim formed JEMD International along with Golden Jem Farms, to meet the industry call for better direct-line connections between the retailers, distributors and growers. In 2008, Jem D International merged with Agricola El Rosal, and was rebranded as Red Sun Farms.

Viraj Puri, Gotham Greens

Viraj Puri co-founded Gotham Greens, a pioneer in indoor agriculture and a leading fresh food company. A Certified B Corporation™, Gotham Greens farms with the future in mind, delivering long-lasting and delicious leafy greens, herbs, salad kits, salad dressings, dips and cooking sauces all year round to retail, restaurant and foodservice customers. Over the past decade under Viraj’s leadership, Gotham Greens has grown to be one of the largest and most commercially successful indoor farming companies in the world with more than 500 employees and 13 high-tech greenhouse facilities across nine U.S. states. Prior to Gotham Greens, Viraj led start-up enterprises in the United States, India and Malawi focused on sustainable agriculture, green building, renewable energy and environmental design.

Matt Ryan, CEO, Soli Organic

As CEO, Matt Ryan’s focus is on strengthening the company’s competitive advantages and achieving scaled topline growth. Prior to his role at Soli Organic, Ryan served as the chief marketing officer and chief strategy officer at Starbucks where he developed and executed marketing and strategy plans, managed the food and beverage portfolio and led all other marketing, product, brand, and consumer functions. As the head of brand management for The Walt Disney Company, he oversaw the company’s brand management, brand development, franchise management, customer data, and CRM. Ryan currently sits on the Board of Directors for Kaiser Permanente. He received a Bachelor of Arts in history from Harvard University, graduating magna cum laude.

About Indoor Ag-Con

Founded in 2013, Indoor Ag-Con has emerged as the largest trade show and conference for vertical farming | greenhouse |controlled environment agriculture. Its events are crop-agnostic and touch all sectors of the business, covering produce, legal cannabis | hemp, alternate protein and non-food crops. More information, visit www.indoor.ag.

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.

 

A Unique Form of Funding Could Provide Relief For Indoor Vertical Farms

High Operating Costs and Shrinking VC Are Big Challenges

Indoor vertical farming has seen significant growth. In fact, the industry is expected to exceed $35.3 billion by 2032, up from $5.6 billion in 2022. It is also expected to achieve a compound annual growth rate of 20.8% by 2032, according to Market.us.

There’s a lot driving the trend. Supply chain issues have disrupted distribution for traditional farms. The climate crisis will continue to reduce crop yields. We’re seeing increasing demand for year-round access to fresh fruits and vegetables. And a growing population means we need more food for more people.

The world needs indoor and vertical gardening — and investors have taken notice. Last year, indoor vertical farming investments surpassed $2.4 billion.

Whether that type of investment continues is uncertain. According to PitchBook’s Q1 2023 AgTech Report, indoor farms raised $75.8 million globally across 14 deals in the first three months of 2023, down 70% in deal value from the previous quarter and 91% year-over-year. So far this year, there’s less VC funding available to fill indoor farmers’ coffers. It doesn’t mean the money’s not available; it just may be harder to obtain.

Current challenges eat away at capital

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Indoor farmers are facing some headwinds right now. Generally speaking, indoor and vertical growing facilities come with hefty operating costs. These organizations need significant capital to build out facilities and buy equipment.

Additionally, these facilities require a great deal of energy to operate, and that is particularly challenging as we saw electricity prices rise 10.2 percent over the last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Organizations in the industry need cash reserves to cover these high costs.

Indoor vertical gardening also requires highly skilled, qualified people to run the operations. Organizations are competing for workers with a unique skill set in a small talent pool. They need the money to both recruit them and pay them their value.

For many organizations, the cost of building and running their operations is bleeding the equity well dry. They simply don’t have the capital for activities that enable them to scale, like expanding their facilities, hiring the right people, and marketing their product.

Overcoming these challenges requires thinking outside of the box in terms of funding.

Extending the cash runway with equipment leasing 

With the potential for less money coming in from outside sources—and both the cost of inflation and energy not going anywhere in the near term—indoor and vertical farming companies will need to figure out ways to stretch the money they do have.

One way to do that is through equipment leasing, which is a flexible low-cost way to finance the type of equipment needed to build and outfit an indoor growing facility. CSC Leasing, for example, offers a non-dilutive equipment lease line up to $20 million that doesn’t have warrants or require restrictive covenants.

Also, what many business owners don’t know is that they may be eligible for a sale leaseback, where an equipment financier purchases pre-owned equipment and places it under lease. For example, CSC offers up to 100% reimbursement, providing organizations with a much-needed influx of cash.

Equipment leasing can enable organizations to:

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  • Conserve equity capital and bank facilities for mission-critical growth and other key operating initiatives, rather than spending it on depreciating assets.
  • Plan more effectively and establish a safety net with predictable payments spread out over several years.
  • Hold on to equity in the business—if the lessor offers non-dilutive equipment financing options.
  • Gain the liquidity to respond quickly to overcome challenges, act on opportunities and avoid risks.
  • Stay on the cutting edge with new technology and avoid the burden of costly obsolescence and equipment disposal.

Ultimately, equipment leasing can provide indoor and vertical gardening organizations with the cash they need to continue to grow the business—even as challenges persist.

CSC leasingIf you would like to learn more about CSC’s variety of solutions, contact Jess Hawthorne at jhawthorne@cscleasing.com or 804-239-7368.

 

 

 

iGrow News Launches Market Research Division

Indoor Ag-Con media partner iGrowNews, a prominent news platform renowned for its extensive coverage of industries within the agriculture sector, has launched a new Market Research Division.

This new division provides tailored market research services based on each client’s unique needs and challenges. Leveraging the expansive database they have amassed over the years, iGrow News aims to offer unparalleled insights spanning various industries such as Controlled Environment Agriculture (including Indoor Farming, Vertical Farming, Greenhouses, and Container Farming), Robotics & AI in Agriculture, Crop Nutrition, Crop Protection, Agriculture Machinery & Equipment, Farm Management Software, and Sensors & IoT in Agriculture.

In the age of data-driven decision-making, iGrow News’ decision to launch this division reflects its ongoing commitment to meet the evolving needs of its clients. “We have always strived to bring relevant news and information to our audience. With this new division, we are taking it further by providing actionable insights derived from a deep analysis of our vast industry data. This move positions us as a news platform and a strategic partner for businesses,” says Sepehr Achard, CEO of iGrow News.

The Market Research Division will utilize the latest techniques and methodologies in data analysis to provide actionable market insights, in-depth reports, and strategic recommendations. This will equip clients with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions and stay ahead in their respective markets.

iGrow News invites all interested parties needing tailored market research services to reach out and explore how this new initiative can meet their unique needs.

iGrow News is a leading news platform specializing in the agriculture technology sector. They deliver industry news and information, helping professionals stay updated on current trends and developments. With its new Market Research Division, iGrow News is set to offer more personalized services to businesses, contributing to strategic planning and informed decision-making.

News website: igrownews.com

Reports: agtechreports.com

 

Press Contact:
Sepehr A. Achard
Chief Executive Officer
e: sepehr.achard@igrow.news