Kimbal Musk’s Farm of the Future (Yes, Elon’s brother)


Almost always, the fresh fruits and vegetables that we find at the grocery store have been trucked or shipped in from somewhere else, especially if you live in a city like New York like I do, and all this traveling affects the nutrients in them meaning they’re not as good for you as they should be. Not to mention the impact it has on the environment. But there might be a solution right behind me in these shipping containers. The way we get our food is completely messed up. In fact, on average, our produce travels 1,500 miles before getting to us. This kale is certainly much healthier than having a bag of potato chips But not all kale is created equal so to speak. As soon as a vegetable or a fruit is picked it starts deteriorating. There is a nutrient loss that is happening every day. So you’re buying a bag of spinach that was grown in California and was picked and sitting in cold storage and then washed and dried and and sitting in cold storage some more and then sent to a packer to put into those cellophane bags and sealed and then in cold storage again and then gone on a truck or a train come across the United States and goes into a distribution center and sits some more and each day there’s this nutrient loss. Is it bad for you? It’s not bad for you, but it doesn’t have that, like, spinach benefit that you think you’re getting that you’ve conditioned yourself into believing that you’re getting. But there’s one guy who thinks he has a solution and he’s Elon Musk’s brother, Kimbal. Eric are you excited to meet him? Oh I’m stoked. Nice to meet you. What do you think is wrong with the way Americans currently, or in the past, have gotten their food? The two different paradigms in food today is industrial food, which is frankly, food that doesn’t taste very good. It’s high-calorie low-nutrient and real food is a way to think about food that is better for you and tastes better. [The] opportunity we have – the challenge we have in front of us is real food for everyone and technology now enables it to be delicious. There’s certainly better tasting than food is shipped across the country and in a city like New York almost everything is shipped across the country for most of the year. And so we came up with this idea to do indoor farming in the city. And we’re doing it in Brooklyn. Tanner farms. The same containers you see on the back of ships. We turn them into an indoor farm the equivalent of a two acre outdoor farm in the heart of Brooklyn. Alright, now back to Brooklyn. So, it is the dead of winter and I am in a parking lot in the middle of Brooklyn, where there are currently ten shipping containers that are growing a variety of produce. These guys aren’t using any soil and They’re using as much water as we typically use in our daily showers, which is crazy to me. Let’s take a look inside. Hello! Hi! How are you? Good. Well, so this is your farm.
This is my farm. How many things are you growing in here?
We have arugula, radicchio, minutina, bok choy, kale, lettuces. When you think about farming in the middle of the city you’ve really got to think about resources in a very different way, right. The first resource you think about is space, so this farm is built inside a 320 square foot shipping container but on an annual yield basis you’re able to get as much food as you would do from a one or a two acre outdoor farm it’s kind of crazy how much food you can grow in a very tiny footprint. They also control the climate so they can grow anything all year around. Yeah, this is some of the new stuff that I’ve seeded, which is pretty cool. In the middle I have a lettuce mix. Six different varieties. This climate allows me to grow multiple things, and I personally am just really excited to try a bunch of stuff. I have some strawberries and poppies at the front of the farm that are really cool. They’re pretty adorable. They’re just the leaves right now. I get really excited about it but you know. The next resource that you really think about is water usage. So in these systems, water drips down through the irrigation system. It’s mixed with the right level of nutrients. Gravity does its thing and feeds the plant and then the water is all captured in a tray at the bottom and is then recirculated. In fact, this whole farm runs on about eight gallons of water a day, which is like less than your shower. And that’s 95% less water than an outdoor farmer would use. It’s like you have an entire forest in here.
These look good. This is like the first time in a while that I’ve been craving a salad. It’s got a little bit of like a zing at the end. Okay, cheers. The other resource that we think about is electricity, right. And energy. So you’ll notice these pink lights all over the farm. The reason for that is that actually the spectrum of light that the plant uses is the red and the blue spectrum. It doesn’t need all of the other colors, right. And so what we do is we only push in the frequency of light that the plant needs to grow. Despite this energy use overall is still a problem. In fact, 50% of Square Root’s costs go to electricity. This is an issue many indoor farms have run into and some have had to close because of it. All of these projects are important but in order to do it they need to heat, they need to have lights, and so there’s so much energy costs to grow locally so a small-scale one is never going to be able to be sustainable economically. And so is this the most energy efficient that it could be or is there kind of room for improvement? There so much room for improvement. We are at the very very early beginning stages of this whole industry, right. I would love to figure out how we put solar on the roof of the farms, right, so we can take these farms completely off the grid. So literally every day we’re thinking about ways to make this more sustainable and more cost-effective quite frankly. So what is the solution in a city like New York where so much of our produce is coming from quite far away? I think that any project that engages with our food and the human connection with people understanding where their food comes from is great, but it’s still not a solution to be able to feed a city of eight plus million people. Even if it’s heavily funded, even if the price drops it’s still one solution, but not the only solution. To be honest, what this is made me realize is that I think I really do want to go into farming. Given the growing population and densification of cities, like, we don’t really have a choice. We can’t just not grow enough food for the people that are living here, but yeah I mean, there’s no doubt that this is definitely part of the future of food.

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