When you meet Leo Lobato, co-founder of Karma Verde Fresh, the first thing that you will notice is his charisma and warm-hearted charm. Leo’s energy for life and his well-earned passion for indoor growing has not only allowed him to start what may prove to become Mexico’s biggest producer of hydroponically grown food but has also allowed him to create some great allies along the way.
by Jens Ruijg
I sat down with Leo at NCERA-101, meeting in May to learn more about the newest Farmtech Society member.
Leo grew up in the farming and ranching community of Durango, Colorado, where he learned the balance of life eating produce grown in his Irish grandfather’s garden. His journey took Leo to Jalapa, Veracruz, Mexico in 1974, as a study abroad student from the University of Colorado. In 2004 Leo launched his atmospheric science business which is now a major contractor to the country’s National Weather Service, with exclusive representation of some of the World Meteorological Organization’s largest technology committee members. His post as the President of the Membership Committee for the American Chamber of Commerce of Mexico, and as a founding board member of the Ag-Industry Sector of CANACINTRA (Mexico’s largest industrial chamber) he has fostered many connections; it was a thoughtful conversation with a fellow member that inspired him to begin his exploration into indoor farming.
Beginning in 2015 until 2018, Lobato Kelly headed abroad to understand the landscape of indoor farming. Starting at the agriculture focused Milan World Fair, followed with trips to Rome and Munich, and finally landing at the Japanese Plant Factory Association summit, he consulted with some of the world’s best indoor farming experts. In order to understand the impact of hunger on violence in society Lobato Kelly visited the Peace Institute in Washington.
This long journey resulted in Leo securing a critical location for production in Mexico, a head grower, and essential industry connections that helped him to Karma Verde Fresh’s proof of concept site in 2018.
Truly embodying the spirit of the Farmtech Society, Karma Verde Fresh began collaborating with key universities throughout the region and has donated GrowRacks sourced from Hort Americas to expand educational opportunities. Thanks to the Enterprise-University-Enterprise (E-U-E) Collaboration Model and key industry guidance, Karma Verde Fresh has carried out 5 separate training courses preparing 163 local students, professionals and citizens for indoor growing.
Lobato is marketing lilies grown with his university partners to 10 Home Depot stores to help generate funding for ag school student food and transportation scholarships and for funding further vertical agriculture R&D.
Thanks to the success of the E-U-E at the UANL in Monterrey, and the university interest in further development of Mexico as a thought leader in Controlled Environment Agriculture, in 2019 the team at Karma Verde begins their Proof of Production phase of 10,000 square feet at the Marin Campus, within 30 minutes of the Central Distribution Centers of the major grocery store chains. The company has plans to expand into full production into the first of 2 of 30, 100,000 sq ft facilities between Monterrey and Mexico City beginning in 2020.
With an undeniable knack for creating community, the Farmtech Society is excited to partner with this growing company to help expand Ponics VET, which is based on the Erasmus+ vocational training credentials, and will serve to augment the course materials for certifying students in controlled environment agriculture across Mexico.
FarmTech Society will organize a series of panel discussions during Greentech Amsterdam 2019. On Tuesday June 11, Tom Zöllner will host a discussion on Plant Nutrition – Extra Natura, focusing on how we can grow the best possible plants in a controlled environment with speakers from Rijk Zwaan, Valoya, INTAG and Signify.
On Wednesday the 12th, Daniel Podmirseg of the Vertical Farming Institute will host speakers from The European Commission, Priva, Liberty Produce, Cultinova and Vertimis to discuss Energy and Building Topology for controlled environment agriculture.
Finally on Thursday June 13, Gus van der Feltz will host a discussion on Vertical Farming Business cases and Consumer Acceptance with speakers from Valoya, 80 Acres, Wageningen University, and Innovation Quarter.