How Urban Indoor Farming Technology Is Changing
Lana Bandoim Contributor
As automation and data collection processes become more common, they are affecting more areas of the food industry. Urban indoor farming technology is also changing. Tobias Peggs, CEO and co-founder of Square Roots, shared more about how tech is transforming the industry.
Located in Brooklyn, Square Roots focuses on urban indoor farming. Its scalable “farmer first” technology platform brings fresh, healthy food to urban areas year-round, while simultaneously training future generations of farmers. The company recently announced its first major national expansion and partnership with Gordon Food Service.
"Gordon Food Service is one of North America's leading food service providers. It is a massive $15 billion per year food company with distribution operations spanning North America, as well as 175 retail locations in the U.S. Together, we will be building new campuses of our Square Roots indoor farms on or near Gordon Food Service distribution centers and retail stores across the continent," Peggs says.
Square Roots' technology focuses on data, insights and tools that help farmers learn to grow non-GMO, pesticide-free and delicious food all year round. Its platform also has a network of cloud-connected, modular farms, which are built inside shipping containers. Each farm has its own controlled climate that is optimized for growing certain crops.
"This means better speed to market. Using a modular container, we can open a new farm in three months and be very efficient with capital instead of taking years and spending millions of dollars to build a plant factory or a large scale industrial indoor farm or greenhouse. We can test a new market very quickly and can also be very creative with existing city infrastructure. We can pop up in a parking lot or take over a disused warehouse," Peggs explains.
The company's farms can be built in the same zip code as the end consumer. This means fresher products for the customers and more engaged urban communities. The setup can help customers feel connected to their local farm and farmers through events like regular farm tours. For example, in Brooklyn, Square Roots can go from harvest to store shelf in 24 hours or less.
Urban indoor farming is also easy to scale. To meet increasing customer demand in any market, they can simply add another container to any existing farm. Each of the container farms can grow 100 pounds per week of products, so they can add farms to meet the market needs when necessary.
"This means just-in-time capital deployment (very efficient) and also just-in-time technology deployment, which is important, as technology in this industry is improving fast, and you do not want to spend years and millions to open a big farm full of old tech," Peggs shares.
Another advantage is faster learning. The farms are cloud-connected and collect millions of data points in real-time that they can analyze with machine learning techniques to determine how changes in certain environmental parameters can impact the yield and taste of the final produce. More climates in more containers mean more feedback loops, which means faster learning. For example, the system has learned how to bring down the time to grow basil from 50 days to 28 days. That same system will also help them develop new "recipes" for new SKUs later this year, like strawberries or tomatoes, faster.
Peggs explains the company's mission is to bring local, real food to people in cities across the world and empower the next generation of leaders in urban farming. The company has plans to build, scale and expand, while training more farmers to grow delicious food on a global scale.
Lana Bandoim Contributor
I am a freelance writer and editor with more than a decade of experience. My work has appeared on Yahoo! News, Business Insider, The Huffington Post, The Week, MSN Money...