The Trendy, Spendy Future of Tech-enabled Indoor Farming
Apps and gadgets are helping farmers shift to indoor food-growing operations
Since the arrival of the plow thousands of years ago, technology has made farming easier. Now, farmers large and small have access to advanced robots, automated facilities, self-driving tractors, and pollinator drones. Tech can enable regular folks to grow their own vegetables and herbs too, as app-enabled home systems like Click & Grow and Lettuce Grow Farmstand have blurred the line between farmer and hobbyist. It’s a phenomenon—and a market—in which companies have become keen to capitalize.
“Everyone's coming out of the gate trying something new, and some of it works, and some of it doesn't,” says Thomas Graham, an environmental sciences researcher at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. “It's still a little bit of the Wild West, and creativity is running rampant. That’s a great thing.”
For years, proponents have hailed indoor growing techniques like hydroponics (growing plants in nutrient-rich water rather than soil) and vertical farming (packing rows of plants beneath grow lamps inside of a warehouse, basement, or retrofitted shipping container) as ways to “democratize farming” for anyone who wants to give growing a go, regardless of whether they own any fertile land. And the indoor farming business is booming. In January, the commercial farming company Square Roots opened its fourth facility of shipping container farms in Wisconsin. The company says the collection of containers are capable of producing a couple million packages of plants—leafy greens like lettuce and herbs—per year. Walmart got in the indoor farming game in January when it invested in Plenty, another commercial vertical farming company. Some companies have even positioned themselves as one-stop shops for farm production, all packed into a single unit.
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