Last week, the Wall Street Journal sponsored a pitch slam session at its annual ECO:nomics conference in Santa Barbara.
Five entrepreneurs pitched their business models to an audience of several hundred investors and CEOs in a mock funding contest.
The NY-based AeroFarms, a sustainable agriculture start-up, was the overwhelming favorite.
AeroFarms is state-of-the-art controlled growing environment that enables local communities and farmers to grow over 250 leafy greens without sun, or soil and with 90% less water.
The system uses an aeroponic technology and LED lighting developed at Cornell University’s Agriculture School. Instead of planting in soil, organic seeds are embedded in cloth and the roots are sprayed with water. Crops are grown in vertical stacks, like trucking pallets, which use space efficiently. All materials, nutrients and water runoff is captured and recycled. Crops grow faster and cleaner than traditionally grown greens, and the system requires far less acreage.
According to AeroFarms, their system is more productive. An AeroFarms system yields ten times the volume of greens per acre than a traditional soil based farm.
“Our seed to harvest cycle is approximately 18 days,” says Marc Oshima, AeroFarms Chief Marketing Officer. “This means our farms produce 22 crops a year, versus the usual 2-3 crops per year.”
AeroFarms is currently being used in five locations around the world: Ithaca, NY; Newark, NJ, Seattle, WA; Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: and Chicago, IL. According to Oshima, the economies of scale achieved with the system are most attractive for farming operations that produce at least one million pounds of greens a year. The system is also ideal for water stressed and farmland constrained areas of the world. This includes areas such as Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
In fact, David Rosenberg, the CEO and a disciple of Bill McDonough, the globally recognized leader in sustainable development and ‘father’ of cradle-to-cradle design thinking, has purposefully structured AeroFarms as a socially responsible for profit company.
“We are transforming the agricultural business by providing a truly closed loop, healthy, local agricultural system,” said Rosenberg.
“We want to address our global food crisis by enabling local communities to grow organic, leafy greens in a sustainable and socially responsible way.”