Vertical indoor farming for the future

Matt Matros is CEO of FarmedHere, the largest indoor vertical farm in North America. At 90,000 square feet the Illinois farm is a leader in a growing agriculture movement that grows crops without soil and sunlight. Source: Tech Insider

Instead, these crops are grown indoors, where they’re always monitored and kept away from harmful bacteria.

“They can’t know exactly what’s going on in their field at all times,” Mr Matros said, referring to farmers using traditional techniques.

“In an indoor farm, you can control everything that’s happening.”

The minimal reliance on water — vertical farming can use up to 95% less water than traditional methods — is critical to reducing the burden on drought-heavy regions.

FarmedHere also prioritizes locally sourcing its produce. It wants to deliver its herbs and leafy greens to consumers living at most 200 miles away, as part of a larger mission to reduce its carbon footprint.

The move follows in the footsteps of the fast-casual chain Chipotle, which recently updated its mission to source from farms at most 350 miles away.

With 18 FarmedHere facilities, 75% of the US population would fall within that 200-mile radius, ensuring the produce can reach consumers quickly.

So far, the main crops are basil, mint, lettuce, and kale.

Those are the low hanging fruit that are easy to grow.

If farmers can use fewer resources to grow their crops, Matros says, their operations will be more sustainable.

Vertical farming has been gaining favor over traditional agriculture and greenhouse farming over the last several years.

Advocates point to the value of having total control over growing conditions. Without the hassle of Mother Nature’s changing climate, farmers can enjoy year-round growing seasons indoors, using less water, fewer pesticides, and avoid biological invaders that cause diseases like Salmonella, Escherichia coli (E. coli), and Listeria.

Above all, Matros says those small steps add up to “happier plants” that are healthier and better-tasting than traditionally grown crops.

Vertical farming’s greatest challenge is finding the labor to monitor these impressive yields at all hours.

That’s why Matros says FarmedHere and other key players in the vertical farming industry will go the way of Amazon, which uses factory robots to attend to packages in its massive headquarters.

“We’re going to have that in our next farm, which will be open in about a year,” Matros says. In the meantime, FarmedHere is preparing itself for a tectonic shift in how American agriculture is done.

The company is anticipating an industry-wide tipping point a couple years down the line in which the winners are the local farmers who can provide nutritious food to nearby residents who need it, taking a big chunk of all long haul trucks filled with produce off the road for good.