What's Indoor Farming All About?
What's indoor farming all about?
Co-Founder and CMO at Bright Agrotech
If you've found yourself asking this question in the past few months, you're not alone.
For a lot of folks, the idea of growing plants indoors on a [relatively] large scale is a little mind boggling.
And rightly so.
At first, it's hard to understand why anyone would want to give up the beautiful, life-giving sunshine and start a farm in a warehouse, shipping container, or even their garage saying things like....
Sure the technology is fascinating and all, but sunlight is free! How could indoor farms ever justify the additional lighting cost?
I'm going to stop you right there.
As all farmer's know, there's a cost to everything. Including sunlight.
That's because sunlight (assuming you actually have enough where you're trying to grow crops) comes with its own set of limitations.
For instance, relying on the sun means you need to grow outdoors or in a greenhouse, both of which also constrain you to specific sets of conditions, crops, and costs.
Growing outside without a greenhouse of any kind means you have to live in a location with the optimal temperature range and enough quality light to grow your crops effectively. And without a covering, you're subject to temperature fluctuations and/or weather events like hail or strong winds - all of which can damage crops due to shock.
Maybe that doesn't sound devastating enough to make you want to grow indoors, but you're probably not relying on the successful sale of these crops for your livelihood either. Remember today's small farmers are largely bootstrapping their operations their ability to not only grow but sell their food means staying in business or closing their doors. No farm subsidies here either.
Growing in a greenhouse also allows you to leverage "free" sunlight as well, but don't forget about the seasons! Depending on your location, you may actually have too much sunlight in the summer and not enough in the winter (you know, like most places in the northern hemisphere). That means you have to factor in the added costs of dealing with too much heat in your growing environment (e.g. fans, cooling walls or even HVAC systems that all suck up electricity at alarming rates).
And unless you're planning on closing up shop for the winter, you're going to need to think about how to give your plants the optimal amount of light when the sun angle is too low and your light quality/duration drops significantly.
All of this assumes you have the land (and zoning approval) needed to grow crops in your city or other urban/suburban environment.
You see, nothing - including the sun - is without tradeoffs. That's how life works. That's how farming works.
Indoor Farming Helps Control the [Climate] Chaos
Now I know what you're thinking...
"If growing outdoors or in a greenhouse cost money, then growing in a warehouse must be crazy expensive!"
Maybe, but you're really thinking about this the wrong way.
The cost of farming depends on a wide variety of factors from the growing technology you use to the cost of real estate/rent, to electricity prices and market demand, but these are factors all growers, regardless of technique have to think about.
That said, once you understand the tradeoff between the benefits of natural light vs. the benefits of increased control, it's pretty easy to see all the advantages growing indoors gives modern growers and subsequently the communities they serve.
The benefits mostly come in the form of optimizing the environment to stabilize temperatures, humidity levels, lighting quality and duration, and much more. Optimizing all of these variables allows tech-savvy indoor farmers to maintain better plant health, with faster, more consistent yields.
More control also means more flexibility in terms of where farmers grow food. Barring any type of natural disaster, indoor farms aren't nearly as susceptible to the climate constraints or variability that conventional farms are, giving them the ability to grow all year long.
Because of that, I believe we're rapidly approaching a reality where fresh crops can be grown and sold anywhere, regardless of climate or conventional food distribution capabilities.
And these are just the benefits we know about... Don't even get Dr. Storey started about the ones we haven't discovered yet.
"But, what's in it for me?"
Most people who read this may not have any current connection to farming or a farmer and may be wondering why this all matters.
Well for one, it matters because our food system is broken... and chances are, you eat food.
Broken not just in terms of the 1,500 miles from farm-to-plate, the depletion of precious soil nutrients, the rampant pesticide use, the massive factory farms owned by just a few food conglomerates exploiting low-wage labor, and don't forget about the chronic droughts in parts of the country that historically have grown most of our produce... but broken in terms of the transparency and accountability that existed when agriculture was relational.
For some, the idea of "shaking your farmer's hand" might sound a little overly romanticized. And, that's fine, but can't we have some middle ground? Wouldn't you feel better about the lettuce you buy if you knew who grew it and how it was grown at the very least?
It's like they took our most basic relational (i.e. human) elements of communication, trust and accountability. All we got in return was an empty "O" label.
But indoor farming is changing all that.
One small farmer at a time.
Thanks to the bold, yet generous modern farmers around the country like Localize Farm, more and more people are getting greater access to better food everywhere.
Soon we can all have the option of feeding our families fresh, healthy food regardless of whether you live in the light-deprived tundra or the water-starved desert.
If you don't have one of these innovative farmers in your city yet, don't fret.
You will soon enough. 😉
[This article expands on a recent Instagram post I created on behalf of Bright Agrotech. If you want a glimpse inside some of the world's most innovative farms, you should totally be following us.]
Chris is the Chief Marketing Officer and Chief of Staff at Bright Agrotech. He believes strongly in the power of small farmers and small businesses to impact their communities in meaningful ways and loves playing a small role in their ability to be successful.