Indoor farming is not really that new, the most prevalent example being that of greenhouses. A New York based company is taking the concept to another level. Bowery, which launched just last year, has started up their concept of vertical indoor farming by acquiring warehouses in urban areas and turning them into their own ideal growing environments.
Calling themselves the "modern farming company", Bowery is proud to be able to control every aspect of the growing process, from the nutrients each plant receives to the amount of light plants get using a sophisticated LED system, all through their proprietary software.
"Bowery has progressed beyond greenhouse growing to being able to control every aspect of the plant's environment," says Bowery's Irving Fain. "In the warehouses, there are no windows, everything is internal and controlled. Moreover, we utilize the entire cubic space by stacking vertically from the floor to the ceiling. In this way, we are able to be 100 times more efficient with the space we use compared with conventionally grown crops. It's completely pesticide-free, fungicide-free, and we use 95% less water."
Left to right: Co-founders Irving Fain, Brian Falther, and David Golden
Eliminating the risk of E-Coli?
With the recent outbreak of E-Coli that has resulted in the death of one person and the hospitalization of dozens more, there has been a heavy impact on the market for romaine lettuce. According to Fain, the answer to bacteria and disease control is indoor farming. Being in control of the entire plant environment provides such an opportunity.
"Being able to set the precise climate for growing conditions is just the beginning," he explained. "We know exactly what goes into growing our produce, from the nutrients to the water, and because we have a completely closed environment, the risk of potentially contaminated air or moisture is drastically minimized. Additionally, we have among the most stringent food safety standards anywhere, and not only can we trace every detail from the seed to the store, we actually own that process."
"Consumers as well as retailers are looking for sustainably grown and chemical free products," he continued. "The emphasis on food safety is foremost on people's minds and Bowery's indoor farming method provides the best way to deliver this."
The brains behind the operation
It's one thing to have the infrastructure in place, it's quite another to operate it. Bowery has developed its own in-house operating system called BoweryOS, that is essentially the "brains of the farm". The operating system is designed so that the farm runs as independently as possible. Automation is the key here, from applying the correct light spectrum to visually monitoring the plants themselves.
"Bowery's operating system is a proprietary design that we developed for this specific method of farming," Fain explained. "The system continually monitors and collects millions of points of data from every aspect of the plant. We even have what we call plant vision where cameras are set up that take images of the plants. With this information, we can predict plant formation and development at a particular time, and apply the appropriate treatments. It's a constant optimization for the environment, and it's all done automatically, controlled by the system."
Leafy greens the current focus
At the moment, Bowery grows various kinds of leafy greens and herbs commercially. The company has experimented with numerous different varieties and said that theoretically, any type of fruit and vegetable is able to be grown in the indoor environment. The only limiting factor is their cost-effectiveness.
"We have grown over 100 varieties of produce but our current focus is on leafy greens and herbs," Fain said. "We currently offer six SKUs including a Bowery Blend mix, baby kale, kale mix, butterhead lettuce, arugula and basil. On the wholesale side, we also offer additional greens, such as mustard greens, bok choy and wasabi arugula to our restaurant partners, including Tom Colicchio's Craft and Temple Court, and we're always looking to expand on these items."
New site opening this summer
Bowery has announced the opening of another farm in the Tristate area. The new farm will be located in Kearny, New Jersey, and will produce 30 times more produce than the current farm. It will grow over 100 types of leafy greens and herbs in order to meet the growing demand from retail partners like Whole Foods and Foragers and support broader retail expansion. According to Fain, this will be the largest and most technically-advanced controlled environment farm in the world. It gives the company scope to expand, as well as launch new products.
"The new site will be delivering products to retailers this summer," Fain announced. "Because the new farm gives us the opportunity to grow more varieties, we will be launching new products very shortly. Such high level automation makes it cost-competitive and as a result, we are able to offer produce at or below the cost of organic produce. As technology continues to improve in areas such as LED efficiency and sustainable energy sources, our energy requirements will continue to improve. The model that we have created is scalable and adaptable anywhere. Our goal is to establish indoor farming in every city in the United States, and expand the concept across the world."
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