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Tech Entrepreneurs' Growing Presence In Indoor Farming

Written by Ken Gaebler
Published: 7/17/2014

As indoor farming and urban farming become vital in producing a stable food source for the growing population, an increasing number of tech entrepreneurs are leading the way with advances in indoor farming.

Outside of Boston, in Greentown Labs, Gabe Blanchet and Jamie Byron are working on their indoor garden called Grove Labs. The co-founders hope to expand their garden project and make fresh food available in homes across the nation one day. By making these self-sustainable methods available to everyone, they hope to "positively impact the health of our bodies, our families and our planet," according to Greentown Labs' website.

Hydroponic Indoor Farm

And Greentown Labs isn't alone. Tech entrepreneurs are using information technology and new lighting techniques to advance the building-integrated agriculture field, which is the practice of growing food in structures such as warehouses instead of greenhouses.

Grove Labs recently raised $2 million in "seedling" funding and said it intends to use that money to help people grow food productively at home, using sensor-controlled gardens and smart phone apps. The Grove Lab founders are among a growing number of entrepreneurs who want to be involved in the advancement of urban food production, a development that could give urbanites access to locally grown, pesticide-free food year-round, lower emissions from tractors and shipping, and shield consumers from disruptions in the food supply caused by droughts, crop disease and natural disasters.

Growing food indoors uses 98 percent less water and 70 percent less fertilizer than traditional methods, and has a higher yield, according to the Association for Vertical Farming.

Plant physiologist Shigeharu Shimamura wanted to explore how the world could keep up with the increasing food demand while lowering environmental risks, so he built one of the world's largest indoor farms in Japan. The farm opened in July and is producing up to 10,000 lettuce heads per day.

"I knew how to grow good vegetables biologically and I wanted to integrate that knowledge with hardware to make things happen," Shimamura told The Independent.

The climate-controlled room is powered by LED fixtures, which were built by American multinational General Electric. These fixtures emit light at the most ideal wavelengths for plant growth and give those working at the plant the power to control the night and day cycles.

Workers at the plant can also control temperature, humidity and irrigation. This allows them to cut down water usage to 1 percent of what's needed by outdoor fields, while growing lettuce 2.5 times faster. Another benefit is that it preserves of water, which is becoming an expensive issue for farmers and urban consumers alike. Farming technologies, such as indoor farming, could be a solution to the cost of water and other problems.

Many farming and water technology entrepreneurs, including Aaron Mandell, co-founder of desalination plant WaterFX, have criticized investors in Silicon Valley for their lack of involvement in food and water technology. Mandell told Modern Farmer that he believes investors are more focused on "web and mobile and the next Facebook--and not very focused on drought technology."

It will be interesting to see the direction indoor farming takes as more tech entrepreneurs begin embracing new technology and investing their efforts into building indoor farms, an industry that has the potential to completely change how we view food production.

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