Seventy-five million babies are born worldwide each year. While these sweet newborns must bring joy and light to their families’ lives, their hungry mouths require us to reevaluate how we grow our food. Population growth is not the only concern for farmers and consumers. Climate change, dwindling natural resources and scarce availability of land all put pressure on the global demand for crops.
The Urban Produce High Density Vertical Growing System, also known as Skywell, offers an efficient, sustainable alternative to traditional agriculture, harnessing the latest hydroponic technologies in a controlled environment.
Ed Horton, president and CEO of Urban Produce, LLC, formed the company in October of 2013 in Irvine, California. He was first introduced to the concept by his close friend and current Mayor of El Paso, Texas, Oscar Leeser. Horton loved the concept so much that he purchased the patents from Leeser and tested them immediately at his hydroponic greenhouses in El Paso. Later, with the help of his botanist, the process was optimized and totally automated.
According to Urban Produce’s Marketing Director, Danielle Horton, today the facility contains a dry cleaning conveyor with 354 carriers of 25 vertical rows. The warehouse sits on approximately one-eighth of an acre, and thanks to its modular system, the company can grow 16 acres of product in that space. The company is a specialty grower, producing a total of 28 varieties, with a focus on organic micro-greens, organic leafy greens and wheatgrass.
Danielle tells us that in Southern California, the concept could have been easier to implement in a greenhouse, but instead, a warehouse with supplemental lighting was chosen. The reason was to demonstrate that the concept could be applied in any location around the world, independent of its climate. Indoor growing implies no bugs, deeming pesticides or other chemicals unnecessary.
The lighting utilized throughout the warehouse is provided by third-generation Philips LED. These lights deliver the proper light spectrum to the plants. Tailor-made light recipes mean faster growth, bigger harvests and higher quality plants. When a plant grows outdoors, it has to transform the sunlight into specific usable wavelengths, but when growing indoors, the perfect light recipe can be provided.
Urban’s produce does not grow in soil but in an organic substrate made onsite, consisting of a proprietary blend of different materials. Soil has naturally good and bad matter, but at Urban Produce, each plant type receives its own customized recipe. Finally, state-of-the-art software ensures each type of produce is attentively cared for, keeping lighting and watering schedules on point.
Just recently, the facility was USDA organic certified, and the next immediate goal to increase sustainability would be getting off the grid. In addition, the company wants to start a nonprofit foundation to take the edgy technology to third world countries and teach communities to be sustainable by growing their own foods. Currently, Urban Produce utilizes its own filtered water system, or atmospheric water generation (AWG), which consists of extracting the humidity from the air and transforming it into water. Through this process, the company obtains around 100 gallons of water per day. Due to the automated systems utilized, the plants receive the exact amount of water, and there is no runoff or excess usage. Consequently, the facility utilizes 93% less water than an average farm.
The company has a strong opinion about providing the market with nutrient dense foods. Traditionally, once a product is cut, deterioration and loss of nutrients begins. To avoid the problem, clients are provided with a tray of live product to be cut and used as needed.
Urban Produce is currently operating at 20% capacity. The company uses a “zero stock” system, or as Danielle mentioned, “grow on demand,” consisting of no inventory and consequently no leftovers. The company’s main focus is business-to-business and supplies distributors and food service companies, such as Fresh Point and West Central Produce, and supermarkets, such as Vons, Pavilions and Albertsons.
Today, Urban Produce is licensing its High Density Vertical Growing System (HDVGS) and is planning to build more than 100 “Urban Farms” that will create local jobs, provide fresh produce in difficult environments and ultimately reduce the carbon footprint. As revolutionary foodist Alice Waters once stressed, “Good food should be a right and not a privilege.”
Today, Urban Produce is licensing its High Density Vertical Growing System (HDVGS) and, in the future, is planning to build more than 100 “Urban Farms” that will create local jobs, provide fresh produce in difficult environments and ultimately reduce the carbon footprint.