When we talk about Farm.One, chefs and home cooks are excited about the chance to get fresh, rare, local produce year-round. And there's often as much fascination about "how" we grow things, as what we grow. How do plants grow indoors? What can we do to make them taste great? How do we handle nutrients? So we explain how "vertical farming" works.
For a number of years, vertical farming like this has been mostly just a concept, something you'll see a grand architect's rendering of but not much more. Just Google Image Search "vertical farming" and you get the idea.
But it's now becoming a reality.
We think the best place to continue to pioneer that new reality is here in New York. And there are three convergent trends why Farm.One makes sense, and makes sense now.
1. Local food
Demand for "local" food has grown enormously in the past ten years. By some estimates, as much as seven-fold since 2005. Some of this is down to the great work of chefs like Rene Redzepi and Dan Barber. Some of it is due to concern about food miles. Some for food security.
What's clear is that in large cities in harsh climates like New York, obtaining truly local food year-round is tough even for resourceful and well-connected top chefs, let alone home cooks. So the demand for a farm that can grow in the heart of the city is now here. We only expect this to grow over time, as people find more options in their city to buy locally.
2. LED technology
Marijuana growers have long been familiar with lighting for indoor production, but primarily using Metal Halide/HPS lights which consume a lot of power and generate a lot of heat. Until recently, the more efficient LED lights had been out of reach, and are still not an obvious choice for marijuana because of the need to sustain the plant with significant light through the flowering stage.
However for most culinary herbs and greens, the light produced by LEDs is now more than sufficient, and so it is now a realistic technology, opening up the space for vertical farming. LED technology became roughly 50% more efficient between 2012-2014, and is still improving. This is important, because it makes vertical farms financially viable and environmentally friendlier, as our primary power usage is in lighting. We expect this trend to continue over the next few years, as do firms like Philips, Valoya and Lumigrow, who invest heavily in horticultural LED development.
3. An easy "no" to GMO and pesticides
Genetic modification of the plants that we eat continues to be a contentious, poorly-understood and worrying topic for many people. A major concern is that we simply don't know what the long-term effects of GMO crop prevalence and GMO crop consumption may be.
Worryingly, much of the focus in GMO development is around making edible crops resistant to pesticide, allowing farmers to spray greater quantities of or stronger pesticides on their crops to combat bugs. The obvious side-effect is that we may end up consuming more pesticides than before — not a happy picture.
Because of these concerns, demand specifically for certified non-GMO foods is expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of around 15% per year between 2014-2019.
The fantastic thing about a vertical farm is that because of the contained environment, with a careful pest-management program, no pesticides have to be used whatsoever. Which means no pesticides in the food, and what's more, an ability to grow crops that are more flavorful, because we don't have to select "hardy" varieties that have been bred or manipulated for their ability to resist pests.
A direct connection to the customer
You may have heard of existing vertical or urban farms and equipment-makers, like FarmedHere, Gotham Greens, Verticulture, AeroFarms, Ecopia, Green Sense Farms, Sky Vegetables, Freight Farms, CropBox, Growtainer or others. It's great to be joining an industry where there are already smart people working on the problem. And having tried much of the produce, I can thankfully say I normally find their plants to be fresher and longer-lasting than other typical produce.
Much of the press surrounding vertical farms often focuses on the size of the farm, and you'll usually hear how one or the other is "the largest vertical farm" or similar. Often much of the produce is destined for the supermarket. That's great - but Farm.One's approach is very different to these large-scale operations. We're focusing on being able to provide to chefs what they can't find anywhere else. We think that's about agility and a continual conversation rather than growing large batches of the same crop. We want that direct connection to our customer, so we're trying to grow as near as possible to the place our plants are eaten. We think that calls for a different way of growing:
- To grow for rarity and delight.
- To grow for flavor and nutrition.
- To grow a stone’s throw from where we eat.
- To grow pure; GMO, contaminant and pesticide-free.
- To grow plants with the same care that we plate dishes.
- To grow for chefs, on-demand, year-round.
So over time we'll be talking more about how we do things, what we're growing, and what that means for you. This is the beginning of that conversation. Thanks for supporting Farm.One in this first step.