Modular Micro Farms: A New Approach To Urban Food Production?

One key guideline of the “urban resilience” thought is local
meals production. If end result, veggies and herbs are grown in cities, they’ll
scale back the runoff, emissions, perishability and delivery costs of produce.
They’ll also make towns more self-sustaining, slightly than having to fully
depend on food grown somewhere else.

The problem is that urban agriculture doesn’t at all times
appear to be a practical concept. Urban land is pricey, and the prospect of
making it farmland – even in distressed cities – could provide long-term
alternative costs if these towns later revive. Furthermore, the vertical
farming thought – the place constructions are built to grow produce at massive
scales – seems untimely, since this brick-and-mortar infrastructure will have
to compete with reasonable, horizontal farmland. As fellow Forbes contributor
Erik Kobayashi-Solomon writes, vertical farming remains to be a in large part
untested concept that receives limited capital compared to same old farming.

An city agriculture technique that turns out simpler,
despite the fact that, is micro-farming, which involves becoming small farms
into tight areas, now and again ad hoc. The website Lexicon of Food defines
micro-farming as “small-scale farming that takes place in urban or suburban
areas, usually on less than 5 acres of land.”

Modular micro-farming is a subset inside of this niche, the
use of small, automatic modular food-growing equipment, regularly contained
within a few sq. ft. Modular farms are more uncomplicated to use and perhaps
more scalable, since they can have compatibility into virtually any house or

One example of this modular approach is Babylon Micro-Farms,
a startup based in my hometown of Charlottesville, VA. The corporate sells 32”
x 66” x 96” tall machines that use managed setting hydroponics to develop leafy
greens, herbs and edible flora. The farms don’t have soil, sunlight or same old
seeds. Instead, Babylon places seed pods onto its trays. Depending on the seed
selection (Babylon has 227 of them), the machines use remotely-managed
equipment to cast the appropriate water and light-weight. This reasons produce
to generate considerably more per-acre yield than standard farms. Babylon’s 15sqft
micro-farms are able to producing as much produce as 2000 sqft of outdoor

These modular farms can also be connected in combination to
create indoor farms of different scales that may work within current
constructions. Their operations are remotely controlled by way of the cloud
with real-time information assortment on all sides of the rising surroundings.
This is a thrilling construction in an area that has remained out of reach for
businesses and consumers due to top capital prices and complicated technology
with a steep learning curve.

Babylon sells these machines the way some green power firms
promote sun panels. Customers agree to a minimum 2-year lease, paying a set
monthly charge. Babylon installs the machines, supplies a subscription of
rising provides, and remotely manages the crop growth by the use of the cloud
using a proprietary device platform. This lets shoppers benefit from the
produce without having a “green thumb or any real expertise,” says Alexander

Olesen co-founded the corporate with Graham Smith, when they
had been on the University of Virginia and participating within the iLab
Accelerator at Darden School of Business. They incorporated in 2017, and now
work in a small warehouse-style space near downtown Charlottesville. Babylon
has 14 employees and $three million in seed funding, including a grant from the
National Science Foundation, and undertaking capital from Virginia, Washington,
DC and Silicon Valley. They have devoted these first couple years to construction
and trying out the product, touchdown a few early purchasers for comments.
These come with UVA, Dominion Energy, and some native restaurants, faculties
and nation clubs.

But their ambitions cross way past central Virginia. Olesen
stated the primary major act of scaling is lately underway, with Babylon
putting in their farms in major company restaurants, cafeterias, hotel hotels,
and grocery shops. Because such establishments thrive on b-to-c relations, they
might have the benefit of the experiential component of a modular farm. Rather
than just saying they use organic meals, they can display customers where and
how it’s being grown.

“This has the additional value of being able to show your
customers that you care about those things,” stated Smith. “If it’s growing 10
feet from the table, that’s pretty clear.”

Babylon believes that their technology can increase the
biodiversity of produce to be had to consumers in urban spaces, so that they
position a large number of emphasis at the underlying plant science required to
develop crops the usage of their machines.

“One of the most exciting things about hydroponics is the
amount of blue ocean space, it’s theoretically possible to grow any plant this
way, yet only a handful of crops have successfully been commercialized,” stated

Babylon has a controlled atmosphere test facility in
Charlottesville where plant scientists run trials on seed types from all over
the world, dialing in tailored enlargement recipes to provide upper yields and
consistent flavors. Their era consists of an array of sensors and utilizes
digital camera imaginative and prescient to create an automatic comments loop
that analyzes the knowledge to increase the velocity at which expansion recipes
can be evolved. In doing so, they plan to learn how to develop heirloom crop
varieties and reintroduce them to the provision chain, resulting in more
options for cooks and consumers alike.

In the longer term, Babylon plans to use their modular
vertical farming platform to construct better farms in a position to growing
the vast majority of recent produce for his or her purchasers. They envision
micro-farming turning into an amenity in urban areas positioned in, or
adjoining to, all grocery shops, foodservice operations, and meals distribution
hubs. These corporations now get their supply from different farms nationwide,
then procedure, package and promote it to consumers. The benefit to them of
growing it onsite can be to seriously reduce perishability, which now wipes out
50% of meals, a lot of it all through the transport procedure, which can be
over 1500 miles from farm to fork within the U.S. Not to say the emissions generated
via this kind of lengthy supply chain.

“Initially, we’re focused strictly on the b-to-b market, and
utilizing these farms to grow food for companies with a known means of
consumption or distribution,” mentioned Olesen, whilst strolling me through the
facilities. “The next step…is creating these farms as a means for people to

This latter imaginative and prescient makes modular
micro-farming appear to be a viable future city meals supply. Land house owners
in dense towns combat to seek out the suitable surface loads to convert into
vertical or horizontal farms. But Babylon’s 15sqft machine provides an
adaptable solution that may work with present infrastructure by means of
slotting into unused house throughout urban spaces.

Other firms have, for this reason, embraced small modular
micro-farming. Ones like Cityblooms and Zipgrow focal point on rather larger,
extra commercialized modular gadgets. However, small scale city farms have
faced a scalability issue; the technology this is commercially to be had
simplest lets in for basic automation, however lacks any comments that might
enable those farms to discover ways to operate more successfully. The maximum
direct competitor to Babylon is InFarm, a Berlin-based startup that operates in
Europe. They have created a device very similar to Babylon’s, which has amassed
momentum with installations in grocery retail outlets across Europe. It’s an
exciting prospect to think about indoor farms in grocery stores here within the

If any or all of these firms can make modular micro-farms a regular supplier of unpolluted produce, it has the potential to disrupt the present supply chain – from producers down to individual families. It would be an environmentally-friendly way to increase crop yields, scale back emissions, and feed folks someday. If it turns into a town phenomenon, in particular, it may well be key to improving city resilience around the U.S.

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