One Farmer’s Mission: Growing Hi-Tech, Flavor-Packed Greens

Collection StoriaFood

Those who live in small apartments in high-rises – as is common in the world's largest and most congested cities – know how difficult it is to get a patch of soil. Even if they want to keep potted plants or grow some herbs, a pot of soil becomes a challenge because of lack of space or sunlight. Living in a similar dwelling in a large city in India, my family knows too well the limitations of the urban apartment for gardeners, horticulturists, and foodies who want to grow vegetables and greens in their homes.

Enter Matt Barnard, who is currently at the World Economic Forum conference in Davos trying to promote – and secure funding for – his unique brand of farms, Plenty.

Barnard's South San Francisco farms produce salad greens in a unique, controlled environment, without soil. And Barnard does his best, it seems, to popularize kale, lettuce, and salad leaves. He has already endeared himself to young diners who have taken an unexpected liking to veggies, thanks to the home-grown, rather than store-bought, flavor of Plenty’s produce, grown indoors. He says the plants, nurtured in a lab environment, has more flavor and a longer shelf life.

The crops are grown upwards on vertical poles, enabling them to produce higher yields on much smaller areas of ground, and the crops are safer – the weather has no impact and no pests exist. LED lights provide the equivalent of sunshine. Barnard describes his farms as "plant science artificial intelligence training centers." They use machine learning and data.

Barnard comes from a family of farmers. He grew up on an orchard, but says he never expected to work in that business. He had strayed into other professions, but now has embraced his own farm business. He has only two farms currently, with a third set to open later this year, but they are hopefully launching pads for a much more ambitious global expansion plan.

Even though his enterprise may not provide a complete solution to shrinking urban space and the challenge of pesticide-free crops for all, it definitely deserves a fillip. More power to his elbow! He can count me on his list of customers should Plenty expand to my part of the globe. My salads, I hope, would be livelier and more flavorful.

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