On April 25, 2020, the CDC warned that grocery stores are a place of high contamination. And as people continue to retreat indoors, vertical farming has emerged as a convenient and alternative source of controlled crop growth, a benefit for those who can no longer comfortably visit grocery stores.
Now imagine the impact if we could grow a substantial portion of our produce indoors, even without sunlight. That’s the future Colton, CA-based startup GrowPod Solutions wants to build.
The Grow Pod, the company’s flagship product, is a controlled, transportable, and more importantly, an indoor micro-farm. Vertical farming has received the attention of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt. The question comes down to whether vertical farming is just a fad or if it will become a sustainable solution to the growing food crisis.
How does vertical farming provide food security?
At the moment, the pandemic casts a harsh light on our current farm production system. Labor continues to strain under the demands of the pandemic, even as restrictions are slowly lifting. Simply put, distribution has too many avenues of contamination. People need guaranteed food security, yet companies are struggling to provide it for them.
“If a piece of meat is contaminated, people have quick ways to find out where that meat came from,” GP Solutions’ Senior Associate Manager Todd Smith said. “However, produce will exchange between six different hands before it gets to a grocery store; that’s why outbreaks with produce make the news—it all becomes contaminated.”
Smith states that indoor farming is the future of farming. Valued at $2.3 billion in 2018, the industry has ballooned from investments starting at $60 million in 2015 to over $414 million in 2018. Considering the amount of space it takes up, the sheer volume that can be produced is also impressive: according to Smith, a grow pod’s max production comes in at about 107,500, in which it can grow over 4000 lettuce romaine heads in under five weeks.
AgriTech: Too good to be true?
While even the Senate believes vertical farming is promising (as the 2018 Farm Bill has increased research and investment into AgTech), the cost, as well as the invariability is hard to ignore. For example, leafier plants such as lettuce and herb are easy to grow indoors—factoring in different crops like berries, grain, become a lot more uncertain, as well as a lot more expensive.
However, the benefits of vertical farming can seem reassuring, especially when people themselves have become more remote. Currently, people use Prolific, GP Solution’s signature growth medium, to start their own gardens. To further Grow Pod’s presence in homes, Smith says they’ve discussed making units people can put in their garage.
“There have been more inquiries to purchase our pods than ever before—food security is a big deal,” Smith said. “When you create produce in your pristine growing environment, you produce a superfood. Your food should be your medicine, it shouldn’t be making you sick.”
Jessica is a writer based in NYC, with bylines at Vox and EGMNOW. You can pitch her stories at jessica [at] therising.co