Urban Farming Grows Up: Farming A-Plenty
There’s a farm on the banks of the San Francisco Bay that doesn’t look at all like any of the conventional farms one expects from big agriculture. Instead of fields of green spreading out as far as the eye can see, Plenty Inc. is growing walls of leafy greens indoors, on 20-foot-high vertical towers that strain one’s neck just to see their tops. Plenty’s goal is to locally produce fresh, organic and healthy greens for Bay Area consumers from a reconditioned warehouse, and achieve it without soil, pesticides or genetically modified seeds and with minimal, recycled water. It’s made possible through—what else?—Silicon Valley technology.
Infrared cameras and sensors monitor and calculate just the right amount of water, air composition, humidity, nutrients and LED light to grow the best-tasting, nutritionally rich lettuce, kale, arugula and other greens. Artificial intelligence assists the ultimate taste testers—real, live employees—to determine the perfect calculation.
Plenty plans to build more vertical farms like these close to population areas across the country, and ultimately across the world, and for good reason. They would cut the length of time from field to table, leading to more nutritious produce.
Consider this: Around 35% of fruits and vegetables eaten in the U.S. today are imported. Even leafy greens grown in California or Arizona travel an average of 2,000 miles before reaching a grocer, losing about 45% of their nutritional value in their two weeks on the road. To survive that journey, varieties have to be grown for their hardiness, not for taste and freshness.
Further, scientists continue to warn that climate change is reducing the amount of farmable land and water available for food production. Plenty says their vertical farms can yield 350 times more produce in a given area as conventional farms, with only 1% of the water.
But how do the greens taste? Michelin-rated chefs who sampled the leafy greens gave them thumbs up for flavor, appearance, texture and quality. Bay Area consumers can try the produce for themselves in the near future as Plenty will soon announce its distribution plans.
Meanwhile, the company is experimenting with how to grow other produce. Next up: strawberries.
Hydroponic and indoor farming isn’t new and many companies have failed. But with over $200 million in venture funding, the evolution of critical technology and a compelling vision, Plenty has plenty going for it.