Farmshelf, an indoor farm that lets you grow lettuce and herbs, is sprouting up at restaurants, corporate kitchens and food halls around the country
Farm-to-table is taking root in corporate offices.
Farmshelf, a Brooklyn-based startup, has begun selling indoor farm kits that grow food like lettuce and herbs using hydroponics — a method of growing plants in a water-based, nutrient-rich solution instead of soil. And the product is so popular that corporate cafeterias, restaurants and food halls around the U.S. are dropping $7,000 apiece to buy in.
“We’re building the Lego blocks to grow food anywhere,” founder and CEO Andrew Shearer told Moneyish. “We’ve been called the Nespresso for lettuce; you literally put the plant pod in, and watch it grow.”
Farmshelf looks like an open-air six-foot, four-inch bookshelf stacked with greenery that simply plugs into a wall. Users can choose to grow more than 50 crops, including baby lettuce and basil, on shelves fit with custom LED lights and a nutrient system. The corresponding Farmshelf app monitors how your plants are doing in real-time, and sends notifications when your produce is ready for harvest. Each Farmshelf unit costs $7,000, and can produce 10 pounds of herbs per week and 140 heads of lettuce per month, or $350 to $800 worth of produce each month. Farmers pay a $105 monthly subscription fee that includes nutrients and seed pods.
“We’ve automated all the hardest parts of growing your food to enable people to grow their own food and enjoy it,” Shearer said, adding that the plants spring up two to three times faster than crops in a field would — and using 90% less water. “We can grow a full head of lettuce in 20 to 28 days, where it would take 60 in the field.”
Farmshelf takes users about 30 minutes a week to maintain. The indoor farming chores include filling it up with water, harvesting crops and planting the nutrients when needed.
And companies are digging the concept. American Express has ordered six units for its corporate cafeteria, and the Great Northern Food Hall in New York City’s Grand Central Station has planted the indoor farming unit where customers can see some of their ingredients, like basil, being grown. Celebrity chefs such as Jose Andres and Marcus Samuelsson also have them growing in their restaurants. And Shearer plans to make Farmshelf available to at-home users by the end of 2019, and offer more foods like tomatoes, peppers and strawberries. The cost for home growers is estimated at $3,000, and the model will likely include one Farmshelf mounted on a wall or countertop.
Systems like Farmshelf could make healthy food accessible to more people in areas where fresh fruit and vegetables — and food, period — are hard to come by. Hunger effects more than 1 billion people in the world, and food production will need to double by 2050 in order to meet the need for the world’s growing population, the United Nations estimates. What’s more, about 23.5 million people live in food deserts, or low-income, rural areas where a supermarket is more than 10 miles away. Shearer hopes to combat this epidemic.
“We’ve automated all of the hardest parts of growing your food to enable people to grow their own and enjoy it,” Shearer said.
Of course, there are downsides: Some restaurants gripe that the system costs a lot of lettuce. West Coast-based salad company Tender Greens said that it spent 20% more by growing Farmshelf produce than it might have otherwise, after paying for the machine and maintenance. But it’s sticking with the system because it can grow veggies all year long, and not have to worry about importing out-of-season ingredients.
“My goal has always been not to have to ship lettuce across the country, but to grow locally,” Tender Greens co-founder Erik Oberholtzer told Moneyish. “The benefit is having a reliable supply year-round so we can really scale these systems while continuing to support organic farmers.”
While Farmshelf is making major headway in bringing farming to the masses, urban farming has been around for decades. Americans used urban farming techniques during the Great Depression and both World Wars to grow their own food. And more recently, former first lady Michelle Obama has done her part to champion for vegetable gardens in schools to help combat childhood obesity.
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