Startups Focus on Urban Agriculture, Food Grown Closer to Where People Live

Betsy McKay reported in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal that, “Billions of people around the world live far from where their food is grown.

“It’s a big disconnect in modern life. And it may be about to change.

“The world’s population is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, 33% more people than are on the planet today, according to projections from the United Nations. About two-thirds of them are expected to live in cities, continuing a migration that has been under way around the world for years.”

Ms. McKay indicated that, “Now more startups and city authorities are finding ways to grow food closer to home. High-tech ‘vertical farms’ are sprouting inside warehouses and shipping containers, where lettuce and other greens grow without soil, stacked in horizontal or vertical rows and fed by water and LED lights, which can be customized to control the size, texture or other characteristic of a plant.

Companies are also engineering new ways to grow vegetables in smaller spaces, such as walls, rooftops, balconies, abandoned lots—and kitchens. They’re out to take advantage of a city’s resources, composting food waste and capturing rainwater as it runs off buildings or parking lots.”

The Journal article noted that, “Urban farming isn’t easy. It can require significant investment, and there are bureaucratic hurdles to overcome. Many companies have yet to turn a profit, experts say. A few companies have already failed, and urban-farming experts say many more will be weeded out in the coming years.

But commercial vertical farms are well beyond experimental. Companies such as AeroFarms, owned by Dream Holdings Inc., and Urban Produce LLC have designed and operate commercial vertical farms that aim to deliver supplies of greens on a mass scale more cheaply and reliably to cities, by growing food locally indoors year round.”

Yesterday’s Journal article added that, “One of the first commercial vertical-farming companies in the U.S., FarmedHere LLC, closed a 90,000 square-foot farm in a Chicago suburb and merged with another company late last year. ‘We’ve learned a lot of lessons,’ says co-founder Paul Hardej.

“Among them: Operating in cities is expensive. The company should have built its first farm in a suburb rather than a Chicago neighborhood, Mr. Hardej says. Real estate would have been cheaper.”

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