From Niche to Nosh: Indoor Farming Takes Root

May 23, 2024|

By KATE GAWLIK

The pandemic forced people to stay home and reinvest in their health while examining what they eat. People are trying to overcome obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other conditions with healthier choices.

Climate change has people thinking about the human impact on the earth. People want to avoid pesticides. Water as a resource is becoming more precious. Transportation and shipping costs impact food prices. Food waste has hit a new level.

These are just some of the reasons why indoor farms have become a booming business. What once was deemed as a niche market for “fancy” food is now mainstream, on both large and small scales.

Macro Scale

According to the Indoor Farming Market study by Fact.MR, the global indoor farming market was valued at $40.51 billion in 2023. By 2033, it is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 11.3 percent.

Eden Green Technology is one of the leading indoor vertical farming companies. Founded in 2017, the company grows more than 200 products every day of the year, including as a supplier to Walmart. According to the company, its process needs 99 percent less land and 98 percent less water while creating less than 3 percent food waste when compared with traditional farming methods.

“Extreme weather events, an unstable market and an ever-rising demand for fresh, affordable produce year round have created a perfect storm in our food supply chain. Eden Green was founded to solve these challenges, and this next phase of growth is a critical stepping stone,” says Eddy Badrina, CEO of Eden Green.

The company recently began a $40 million Phase 2 expansion of its Cleburne, Texas campus, adding two greenhouses by 2025. The company also has hopes to add 20 greenhouses across the United States over the next five years. Eden Green says the two greenhouses will triple the company’s growing capacity while creating new innovative technologies that can improve efficiency, reduce impact and extend freshness. The Cleburne site is projected to produce about 6 million pounds of lettuce per year after the expansion.

Micro Scale

According to InsightAce Analytic, the microgreen market is expected to increase from $1.77 billion in 2022 to $5.82 billion by 2031. The reasons for the growth are very similar to all indoor farm motivations, such as a focus on nutrition, shipping costs and natural resource conservation.

Spira Farms in Lemont, Ill., was founded in 2020 by Chris Borek. Spira grows about 40 varieties of greens, with plans to add more varieties in 2025. For direct to consumer, the group focuses on nutritional greens including broccoli, salad mixes, arugula, radish, kale, sunflower, peas, beets, basil, cilantro and more.

Borek operates the business with his wife, Caitlyn. His motivation for the business came while working on his master’s and writing a paper about carbon emissions.

“In my research,” he says, “I realized the energy requirements of moving food from out of state to the area. My thought process was that I could grow food at home, reducing the energy requirements of having food brought to grocery stores and my having to drive to grocery stores less often.”

A second motivation for Borek came when his mom was diagnosed with cancer. He learned microgreens’ health benefits include a large volume of vitamins A, E, C and K compared to adult plants. Additionally, broccoli microgreens contain significant amounts of sulforaphane, a compound that has been shown in different studies to reduce the chances of and combat cancers.

A home farm in 2018 grew to a storefront in 2020 with plans for a new warehouse in the future. To stay competitive, the Boreks runs a lean, efficient business. Borek says, “My background in technology has allowed us to automate many of the functions of the farm and to keep business for us on the cheaper side. There were many bankruptcies in the vertical farming industry in 2023 due to the over investment in technologies. Our focus is to stay lean and make incremental updates on technology as the business grows.”

A smaller storefront taught the Boreks how to optimize efficiency, but Spira Farms is looking at a larger warehousing space as it stays focused on the future. The business is also adding edible flowers to its repertoire, but Borek says Spira Farms first needs a larger space for this venture to be profitable.

“I think there are two main benefits of microgreens depending on the channel,” says Borek. “First is simply nutrition. Growing greens locally are fresher than those that travel. We are able to harvest and deliver fresh greens on the same day. When produce gets shipped from California, it typically takes a truck seven days to get here. Produce losses 50 percent of its nutritional value in a week. The greens look okay, but they are slowly dying over time. Chicagoland gets a lot of old food!”

The second opportunity is flavor. Borek notes that microgreens have significantly more flavor than their adult counterparts. Chefs often look for color and flavor to complement their dishes, he says, and more home chefs are doing the same.

In four years, the growth curve for Borek and Caitlyn means they can handle 10 times the amount of volume in just a few hours with the same team compared to when they first started. They also increased their sustainability focus with corn-based packaging. In the future, they want to generated their own power and have their fleet of vehicles powered by the energy Spira Farms produces.

Whether on a macro or micro scale, greens are growing like they never have before – inside, surrounded by innovative technology.

 

 

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