Innovator Uses Technology To Build Urban Micro-Farms
Innovator Uses Technology To Build Urban Micro-Farms
Former resident’s Cityblooms firm working on sustainable food solutions.
By Aleese Kopf - Daily News Staff Writer
Nick Halmos, the son of Palm Beach resident Vicki Halmos, recently received an Innovator of the Year Award for his company Cityblooms and its work for sustainable food solutions in Santa Cruz, Calif. Halmos is seen here at his mother’s home Thursday in Palm Beach.
(Michael Ares / Daily News)
Posted: 6:30 a.m. Monday, March 27, 2017
Nick Halmos, son of longtime Palm Beacher Vicki Halmos, recently was recognized for his work to fight food insecurity.
Halmos, 37, grew up on the island and attended Palm Beach Day Academy. He now lives in Santa Cruz, Calif., and is CEO and founder of Cityblooms, a company that uses technology to create controlled, micro-farms in urban environments.
Cityblooms farms grow in an enclosed environment with automated controls for temperature and water use. Farm management software keeps track of crop schedules and maintenance.
Last week, Halmos was named Innovator of the Year by Event Santa Cruz at its annual NEXTies awards show that honors individuals and businesses who inspire the Santa Cruz community.
Halmos, a graduate of Brown University with a law degree from Vanderbilt, was recently in town and shared what his company is about and why its work is important.
How did you become interested in farms and growing things?
I first became interested in urban agriculture in an entrepreneurship class (my undergraduate focus) at Brown. At that time (2001), global warming issues were finally getting mainstream attention. I became keenly interested in the business case for improving supply-chain inefficiencies in our food system by learning to grow food in the underutilized nooks and crannies of the urban environment. In other words, what would happen if we could bring the farm to the people and measure seed to fork in yards, rather than miles?
What was your first project?
After graduating from Brown, I stayed in Providence and started to collaborate with some of my friends who had just graduated from RISD [Rhode Island School of Design]. They were interested in urban renewal. I was interested in urban farming. So together we built the first “shipping container farm” by building a hydroponic system inside an old shipping container. We set up operations at an abandoned steel mill and that project ran for three years, growing basil for restaurants in the Italian district of Providence.
What was your first Cityblooms success story?
It must have been my proximity to major technology and agricultural centers (i.e. Silicon Valley and Salinas), but by 2011, I once again found myself keenly interested in the technology of growing food. I spun the Cityblooms effort back up inside a barn where we built almost 50 prototypes and filed four patents before we drew the attention of one of the large technology companies in the Bay Area (Plantronics) that was interested in hosting an installation to grow fresh produce for its campus eatery. This gave us the incredible opportunity to put some of our ideas into action and make a big push forward with our technology.
That first “food growing robot” has been remarkably successful and has produced over 100 different varieties of crops in the three years since our first harvest. It was not long before other organizations were contacting us about similar projects. Over the course of the last three years, we have been fortunate to work with companies as large as Apple and as small as our local community organizations. In the process, we have learned how to create intensive food-producing systems in a variety of underutilized urban settings such as parking lots, rooftops, and warehouses. We have also been fortunate to be able to deploy our technology in more traditional agricultural settings, such as the greenhouses of Central California.
Why are you passionate about this topic?
The Cityblooms team is passionate about contributing to the transformation of our food system. With a global population projected to reach 9 billion by 2050, global agricultural output must increase by 70 percent. As Nobel Prize winner Normal Borlaug pointed out, over the next 50 years we have to produce more food than we have in the past 10,000 years. Considering the impressive sustainability gains created by efficient and local food production, there will be the opportunity to grow certain classes of highly perishable crops in a much more decentralized, and community oriented, fashion than the status quo. This will not be the single silver bullet that solves this tremendous challenge, but it will be a part of the larger solution.
How can residents and businesses contribute to food sustainability?
There are many fruits and vegetables sold in Palm Beach stores that travel thousands of miles. This not only has a negative impact on the environment, but also food that travels long distances can be of inferior quality to locally sourced products. For example, many types of green vegetables can lose up to half of their beneficial nutrients after only a few days in packaging.
Palm Beach residents can help this transformation of our food system by supporting locally grown products. Consumers should embrace the seasonality of fresh produce items. Look at the packaging on your food, and pay attention to where it is from. Vote with your wallets and buy local. As the demand for local food products increases, local farms will spring up to meet that demand.