Known as ‘America’s salad bowl,’ Yuma County, Arizona grows much of the iceberg lettuce and other leafy greens consumed in the United States. During the winter months, the area grows as much as 90 percent of America’s leafy greens. Yet, over the past decade, indoor vertical farms popping up in cities throughout the country have begun to decentralize the produce market. But can they scale enough to provide consumers with local vegetables and even fruits year-round while still being able to compete with the price of conventionally grown produce?
“By remotely monitoring and analyzing the data across our global network of modular farms in real-time, we’re not only able to offer a closer, more sustainable alternative to industrial farming, but we’re able to improve the way our produce grows to offer a fresher, tastier product year-round,” said Emmanuel Evita of Global Communications Director of Infarm which has more than 1200 indoor farms in stores and distribution centers in the United States, Canada and Europe.
If you don’t already, chances are you’ll soon be eating produce from indoor farms. While outdoor farms rely on water, sun, and sometimes luck to produce leafy greens and other produce, most indoor farms use soilless farming techniques, technology and constant data monitoring to grow their crops.
“We believe that vertical farming will play an instrumental role in the future of local, pesticide-free, sustainable food production year-round in nearly any location in the world,” said Hiroki Koga, Co-Founder &CEO of Oishii, which figured out how to vertically farm strawberries, growing the Omakase Berry. “The industry is in its infancy, and over time yields will increase and production costs will decrease. There truly is a roadmap to reaching cost parity with greenhouse and conventional production systems.”
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There’s no doubt that vertical farms will play a role in feeding the growing worldwide population, especially as increasing climate disruptions make outdoor farming more unpredictable. However, much of the indoor farming industry is still trying to figure out the best model, whether that looks like distributed or centralized indoor farms to produce food efficiently and sustainably.
“Where an indoor farm is built is just as important as who it’s being built by,” Ken Kaneko, the founder of Washington-based Forward Greens. “It requires a consumer that is willing to try new things.”
Ken Kaneko got introduced to vertical farming while working at Apple
“When you build smaller farms even multiple farms within a city you can enjoy fresh local produce made in your neighborhood,” said Kaneko.
Forward Greens currently provides leafy greens throughout southwest Washington-state and is working to expand to a larger demographic while focusing on making sure all the business fundamentals are accounted for before growing.
“In addition to creating and marketing a product we’re also creating a demand for how a product is being made,” Kaneko said.
Like Forward Greens, Oishii is currently working to build out its farms to expand to new locations within the US.
”Oishii has set its sights on creating a paradigm shift in indoor vertical farming,” Koga.
It may not be long before consumers start to pay attention to and create the demand for specific brands of lettuce or strawberries the way they might for a the brand of tomato sauce.