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US: Growers resort to CEA amidst climate change scenarios

Indoor vertical farms are the hottest part of the growing “controlled environment agriculture” industry. Venture investors plowed around 20 percent of their total $4.5 billion in investments into ag-tech start-ups in 2022, according to Crunchbase, which provides business information. Investment plummeted this year by more than 90 percent, according to Pitchbook, as many high-profile indoor vertical farms closed or became financially shaky.

AeroFarms, one of the earliest vertical farms, founded in 2004 and written about exuberantly as the future of urban farming without soil or natural light, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June. A month later, Elon Musk’s brother Kimbal announced he would close four of his five indoor “smart farm” Square Roots locations and lay off most of their staff.

The other, less flashy sector of controlled environment agriculture uses greenhouses, which largely rely on the natural light of the sun filtered through high-transmission glass or plastic. “There have been greenhouse operations for 40 years,” said Paul Sellew, founder of Little Leaf Farms in Devens, Mass., though in the past, they were primarily used to grow ornamentals like flowers and houseplants rather than food. “Now, most tomatoes are greenhouse-grown. Our bet is that the food system is going through a transformation.”

Little Leaf is now the dominant controlled-environment producer of packaged leafy greens in New England, with more than $100 million in sales. Grown in peat moss and wood fiber, lettuces are watered with captured rainwater, using sunlight supplemented in the winter months with grow lights. Gotham Greens, one of Little Leaf’s chief competitors, has grown from a single urban rooftop greenhouse in Brooklyn in 2011 to a leading producer of hydroponic leafy greens in North America with 1.8 million square feet — more than 40 acres — of greenhouse production.


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