Indoor Farming Startup Lands Amazon Veteran

Bloomberg writer Olivia Zaleski reported last week that, “Bowery Farming Inc., an agriculture startup that’s less than two years old, got a big boost last month when it poached Brian Donato, a veteran of Amazon’s automation efforts.

“Donato will oversee Bowery’s indoor farm in Kearny, New Jersey, a forgotten industrial enclave once famous for building warships. There, Bowery grows leafy greens in a computerized labyrinth of sensor-rich trays that monitor and react to humidity, light and carbon dioxide. Human farmers work alongside the crates, which automatically adjust inputs, like light and temperature. The system, which resembles a giant game of three-dimensional Tetris, is designed to grow lettuce and herbs with limited water and no pesticides.

“During his seven years at Amazon, Donato managed Amazon fulfillment centers, the massive distribution hubs where humans and robots pick, pack and assemble hundreds of thousands of orders, each day, for delivery. He most recently ran Amazon Home Services, which provides cleaners, carpenters and more to harried homeowners. Before that he directed operations for the Amazon Fresh and Pantry food delivery services. Bowery’s heavily automated process reminds Donato of the fulfillment systems he implemented at Amazon, where he was part of the team that integrated robots into the human workforce. ‘We had to teach people to care for the automation and to work with it,’ he says.”

The Bloomberg article added that, “Bowery’s indoor farm is controlled by proprietary software called BoweryOS. It uses a web of cameras and sensors to automatically tinker with inputs, like air flow, that help plants flourish. Bowery says one square foot of its indoor farm is 100 times more productive, and less wasteful, than an equivalent plot of arable land. Rival indoor farms make similar claims.

“Besides running the existing farm, Donato will help Bowery Farming set up automated facilities on the outskirts of cities. This summer, he’ll launch Bowery’s second grow house; it’s not far from the current operation in Kearny and 30 times the size of the original farm. A representative for Bowery declined to provide the square footage and yield of its current operation.”

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