Indoor farming is getting its moment in the sun or, more accurately, under LED lights.
Cornwall-based agtech startup ZipGrow purchased a 20,000-square-foot building earlier this year, allowing it to more than double its footprint.
“We’re growing super fast,” says co-founder and president Eric Lang, a serial entrepreneur with a background in traditional farming methods.
The company, created in 2016, currently has a staff of 15. That’s expected to grow to 25 by the end of the year, says Lang, who likes Cornwall’s proximity to the bigger cities but “without the bigger city prices.”
ZipGrow has also launched a new partnership with food services and facilities management company Sodexo Canada. It will be introducing ZipGrow’s sustainable growing systems to clients in educational institutions, health-care centres, conference facilities and corporate food service centres, as well as remote mining camps that typically have limited access to year-round fresh food.
“Our vision is to have your food coming from as close as possible,” said Sodexo Canada corporate sustainability manager Davide Del Brocco, who’s also a trained chef. “We enjoy making our areas as green as possible and using that urban space to connect us a bit more with nature.”
Reducing food travel distance
ZipGrow’s technology uses both hydroponic growing systems and vertical planes to maximize production volume while offering a functional and space-saving design. The systems primarily grow leafy vegetables, such as lettuce, kale and collard greens, along with herbs and small fruit crops such as strawberries.
“The goal on my end was to find a versatile indoor farming solution that could fit any space and really be an engagement piece,” added Del Brocco, who was the one to reach out to ZipGrow to discuss doing business together. “It grew so organically, pardon the pun.
“Zipgrow is one of the great partners accelerating our move toward increasing our local footprint and attacking the distance travelled by our food, and giving us the availability of fresh food sourced on site. We’re so proud to be a partner with them.”
Not only does indoor farming use less water, but it’s also resilient to changes in the climate and can be done all year, producing locally grown food that doesn’t require transportation costs.
“It’s fixing a broken model,” says Lang. “There’s no going back from this. This is the new future.”
It’s important to note, said Lang, that the technology doesn’t compete with local farmers growing crops such as corn and soybeans.
“It’s competing with the vegetable growers in Mexico and California.”
Lang also sees the agtech movement as giving consumers the chance to better appreciate where their food is coming from and how it’s grown.
“Consumers want to have a connection to their farms.”
“Consumers want to have a connection to their farms. You can have a farm beside the grocery store or a farmers’ market and you can actually meet the farmer, and that farmer is literally living in your town.”
ZipGrow has recently been tapping into the overseas market, particularly in the Middle East, where indoor farming helps countries get around water scarcity challenges.
What differentiates ZipGrow from other agtech companies, he said, is that it offers turnkey solutions.
“We’re not selling to farmers, we’re selling to farmers-to-be. These people really need a lot of support. That’s where we really shine. We train them. We educate them. We have long-term relationships. They call us whenever, anytime.
“We don’t grow food, we grow farmers.”