AgTech Summit 2018
A hydroponic farm by Farmshelf.

By 2050, there will be 9 billion people on Earth. How are we going to feed them? Indoor farming may be a solution.

The inaugural AgTech Summit took place in the New Lab at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The inaugural Indoor AgTech Summit 2018 came to the New Lab at the Brooklyn Navy Yard last week to discuss the role that vertical and indoor farming can have in serving urban local and national communities. Hosted by Rethink Events, the team behind the international World Agri-Tech Innovation Series and Future Food-Tech summits, the conference attracted researchers from Cornell University, indoor farm entrepreneurs based in Brooklyn and beyond, as well as investors from around the country. While exploring the commercial strategies, business models and partnerships needed to scale the emerging agriculture tech industry, the conference also showcased the latest innovations in automation, lighting, environmental control and plant science. 

BP Adams delivered the welcome address. Photo courtesy Office of Brooklyn Borough President

The summit kicked off with a welcome address by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. If we show people how to grow food, we are going to change the conversation,” said Adams.

One of the eight panels of the two-day conference focused on indoor and vertical farming as part of local and national food systems and featured pioneers of the hydroponic industry. Viraj Puri, CEO of the Brooklyn-based hydroponic farm Gotham Greens, a farm that grows greens without soil by using mineral nutrient, explained how hydroponic growing can help alleviate issues such as food waste and enhance food quality while making the most of the limited space available in densely-populated urban areas such as NYC.

“Currently, New York City grocery stores import a lot of their vegetables from California which have significantly shorter shelf lives after the long-distance transportation,” explained Puri. “Getting rid of the long transportation ways by growing locally increases the shelf life of produce.” 

A hydroponic farm by Farmshelf.

Ever since the establishment of Gotham Greens, Brooklyn has been experiencing a boom of indoor agriculture operations which sprouted indoor farms such as Edenworks, Farmshelf, Square Roots and Teen for Food Justice’s hydroponic farms in Bed-Stuy. Emma Cosgrave, staff writer from AgFunder News, highlighted Brooklyn’s unique position in a different panel. 

“Food from Brooklyn is a brand itself. Independent cheese- and chocolate- making started from Brooklyn,” said Cosgrave. “So you can understand that people come here to build a brand or a prototype for themselves. Then, they move to other places where real estate is not so expensive to do business.”

A discussion on commercial strategies of indoor agriculture, one of eight panels.

Despite Cosgrave’s slightly critical outlook, Brooklyn’s indoor farming trend will likely continue. Last year, BP Adams unveiled over $7 million in his capital budget investment for Fiscal Year 2018 to expand his “Growing Brooklyn’s Future” initiative, which has brought cutting-edge technology to cultivate urban farming education in classrooms across the borough. In October 2017, Councilman Espinal followed with a bill to further support and promote rooftop growing. During their welcome address, Adams and Espinal announced an additional $2 million in capital funding to launch an urban agriculture incubator in Brooklyn.

As Brooklyn continuous to set trends locally and globally, the borough’s future looks mighty green.

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  1. I was there and after a very inspiring talk by BP Adams we heard speaker after speaker talk about how they had the best solution…for last century problems. Most of them acknowledged the issues that are coming but none had real answers to them.
    The Farmshelf kit looks great – but how many people can afford a Rolls Royce solution? We all know that those most in need of an improved diet are those least able to pay for it. This must mean that increasing costs to an impossible level is pointless for all but the very wealthy. Current supply chains mean the carbon footrpint of lettuce per calorie is already higher than for bacon. To grow the same amount as a retailer expects to sell per unit area means the Farmshelf units would need to be stacked 40m high. Unsurprisingly that is not going to happen! To help feed a modern smart city also needs the ability to grow far more than leafy greens.
    The big issues we are starting to see are a lack of truck drivers and a lack of workers prepared to work in horticultural trades. All around the world strawberry growers are finding it increasingly hard to recruit pickers. The answer has to be using automation intelligently.
    All of which is why I spoke of reducing costs. It is well known that the final mile is the most expensive – and therefore the one we should avoid completely. When the cost of distribution is higher than the cost of growing many fresh produce varieties we argue that it is wrong to grow, pack and deliver what will inevitably go to waste.
    Our patented technology is all about the ability to install a lightweight automated greenhouse in awkward to access spaces such as the roof of a modern steel framed warehouse. At a conference in Beijing last year I titled my talk ‘Using data to unlock the benefits that can only be found by growing at the point of need’. In other words our unique approach allows a change of business model. Tracking moving crop trays with RFID tags offers the ability to use lower amounts of expensive techology and to collect far more crop data than others and use grow to order crop plans to offer broader range of crops of better quality and to buffer harvest to match short term demand changes.

    1. Thank you, Jonathan, for your thoughtful comments! Yes. I agree with you that people who need the high-quality food the most are less likely to be able to afford the premium of the produce in concern due to the load of technology that is put into the growing process.

      Now I am very curious about City Farm System’s “growing at the point of need.” Does that mean you can decide which crop(s) to grow and how much to grow? How do your technology reach such conclusions? Do you mind giving me an example?

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