Agritechture : Know your farmer. Trust your food. Buy Local. Containers to grow bio and local!
Urban agriculture is now on top of the list of a lot of startups, especially in NYC. The worlwide foodtech market could reach US$ 250billions by 2022. Many business owners are therefore jumping on the sector to give a new dynamic to city centers by opening urban farms.
This is why in November 2016, that Kimbal Musk (Elon’s brother!) and his colleague Tobias Peggs launched Square Roots, an incubation program for urban farms in Brooklyn. This incubator is made of 10 urban farms located inside shipping containers of 30sqm each. The young farmers/entrepreneurs work inside to grow vegetable and herbs in a very innovative vertical manner.
Square Roots is definitely looking at changing the way we eat by starting what their founder call a “real food revolution”.
Indeed Kimbal Musk managed 2 chains of restaurants, The Kitchen and Next Door where menus are made with ingredients coming from local food productions.
Since 2011, his non-profit program « Learning Gardens » is being offered in more than 300 schools to teach agriculture to kids.
His next target : industrial agriculture.
Each year, Square Roots will recrute 10 farmers (beginner or senior). This farmers will produce various types of salads, herbs such as basil, spinach or rhubarb… all sort of green vegetables, all very healthy!
During a 13 months training program, these fresh entrepreneurs, selected byMusk’s team based on the quality of their applications, will learn how to grow the products of their choice in their farm, to write a business plan, to work on their marketing, as well as to improve their leadership. They will attend both classes and meetups with mentors identified by Square Roots.
At the end of their training, they will be able to start for real in the urban agriculture by purchasing their own container for US$80 000 or to get involved in the expansion of Square Roots in other American cities.
Why going to Brooklyn for a visit ?
Meet with the co-founder
You can visit the site only during specific and regular meetups. These meetups are very popular and gather in average more than 200 people per session. When you arrive onsite, you will be welcomed by Tobias Peggs himself, an english startuper, long time friend with Kimbal Musk and who was a few years ago in charge of mobile apps for WalMart. He will explain that his incubator is located right where an old ammoniac factory was standing. Ironically this old factory was involved the production of insecticides used by industrial agriculture. No doubt it was the perfect place to host the clean agricultural revolution ! In addition he also loves to remind visitors that Jay Z was born only a few blocks away.
See a container
The containers of 30 sqm allow to grow for example 25 kilos of basil per week or up to 50.000 lettuces per year, which is the production equivalent of a field of 8 000m2 according to Square Roots. Every day, 30 liters of water (half a shower) are necessary to insure the normal growth of cultures. This represents 90% less water than a traditional farm. This water is also being gathered from the roof gutters or from the gutters under the plants. Inside the container, a very impressive LED system will supply the necessary light to insure optimal photosynthesis, Blue or pink, they light up with the adapted color for the plants. This is questioning to imagine that to produce these clean vegetables, the LEDs require a lot of electricity… Will the next step be to install solar panels on the rooftops of the containers ?
Create the best climatic condition in situ
Thanks to the analyses of weather data of a given country, it is possible to re create almost any type of climatic conditions inside the container. You can therefore grow the plants with the same characteristics as in a region or country. For instance, you tasted the best basil somewhere in Italy in 2007 ? No problem, Square Roots will be able to have the same climatic conditions in the container to grow you basil.
Farmers have access to a mobile app which allow them to control temperature, humidity and even wind. The app is only available to Square Roots members.
A local market
If you are based in New York and that you want to purchase your vegetables at Square Roots, nothing’s easier. Square Roots offers various distribution models : from farmers to stores, from farmers to restaurants, of directly from farmers to final customers.
You can order online and be delivered at home. You know you are in the Agritechture when you read the terms : nanobyte, megabyte or terabyte, used to name the quantities received when you have a monthly subscription. For instance if you choose the Nano subscription, you’ll receive a US$7 worth pack of herbs each week.
When you come to visit Square Roots during their meetups, you also have the possibility to purchase your vegetable directly to the farmers. These vegetable remain expensive but the growth of these urban farm let us believe that the prices should drop sometimes soon.
Farmers but Entrepeneurs
Each year the farmers will produce their own vegetables but also will have to grow their business. It is important that they participate to the growth of urban farming by thinking of new ideas for their business.
Paul Philpott, for instance, decided to offer conferences and events in difficult neigborhoods in make young generations aware of the importance of fresh healthy food Vs industrial one.
Other farmers have decided to start alternative businesses beside their main farming activity. For exemple Nabeela Lakhani created her own clothing brand to promote agriculture. Her t-shirts “Make America Farm Again” are available on Etsy.