By teaming up with retail leader Walmart, San Francisco-based Plenty is set to supply California (for starters) with healthy, sustainable food at an affordable price, using only 1% of the land needed for traditional farming.
Agricultural communities sparked our civilizations — humans were able to move away from the nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle and instead domesticate plants and animals for survival. As incredible as this transition was, the agricultural industry that allowed us to evolve now has an uncertain future.
Resource-intensive, monocultural farming practices have robbed the world’s topsoil, essential for growing our food, of essential nutrients — bringing with it loss of biodiversity and increased water pollution due to the rampant usage of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, among other catastrophic side effects. Collectively, these factors are impacted by and contribute to climate change, encouraging weed and pest proliferation, uncertain precipitation patterns and rising temperatures globally.
“Our existing food supply is fragile, strained and unsustainable,” Dana Worth, SVP of Commercial at San Francisco-based Plenty, told Sustainable Brands™. “For example, in California, the 5th largest supplier of food in the world, we are just one bad fire season away from disruption to our many growers.”
To ensure a consistent food supply and protect our soil, we need to move away from unsustainable farming practices towards those which are less degrading to our land, and produce more reliable and consistent yields.
Envisioning the role of consumption in a just, regenerative economy
Join us, along with Forum for the Future and Target, as we use future scenarios to identify potential shifts in consumption that would enable a just, regenerative economy in 2040 at Brand-Led Culture Change — May 22-24 in Minneapolis.
Vertical farming has gained considerable interest as an alternative to growing fresh produce — a recent study revealed that the global indoor farming market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 10.20 percent when compared to 2021, toward revenues of $30.8 billion by the end of 2022.
“Indoor vertical farming will be a key player in the future of agriculture because it enables better control of the growing environment,” Worth explains. “We can focus on growing access, rather than mitigating risks — growing produce globally, all year round, in previously unthinkable climates.”
Founded in 2014, Plenty’s vertical farming towers allow it to grow produce all year, regardless of climate, weather, pests or other factors impacting crop yield. Its technology reduces traditional agriculture’s reliance on water and land — using just 1 percent of the land an outdoor farm requires whilst delivering anywhere from 150-350x the yield per acre — and addresses challenges associated with traditional farming including inconsistent yields, supply chain disruptions, high water use, and rampant pesticide and chemical use.
“Plenty farms can be put anywhere with a power and water connection,” Worth says. “As more Plenty farms are deployed globally, transportation times will decrease — thereby reducing cost and environmental impact due to transportation — while enabling our pesticide-residue-free produce to stay fresher longer on store shelves and in customers’ homes.”
In addition to improving the world’s fruit and vegetable production, Plenty is on a mission to reduce food and social injustice, as well. The company has put down roots for its first farm in Compton; the goal is to create 50 new, full-time jobs — ranging from growers and technicians to logistics and operations managers. The farm is expected to open in the second half of this year.
“Given the nature of indoor vertical farming, the jobs we create will be high-quality, year-round, career-building opportunities,” Worth says. “Our goal is to continue to be a partner alongside traditional growers and farmers, helping to provide healthy, sustainable food long into the next century.”
Plenty’s pesticide-free farming technology is designed to grow multiple crops in a building the size of a big box store whilst yielding hundreds of acres of produce. Its unique approach provides optimal growing conditions for plants through their proprietary grow towers, lighting, robotics and farm operating systems; the company is backed by one of the largest US patent portfolios in the industry.
“Other farms have limits: space, crop, nature or yield. We can break through those limits with the potential to grow many crops with consistent flavor and quality, regardless of climate,” Worth explains.
Earlier this year, Plenty raised $400 million in a Series E funding round — led by investors One Madison Group, JS Capital and Walmart — which is touted to be the largest to date for an indoor farming company.
“Walmart is the first large US retailer to significantly invest in indoor vertical farming,” Worth says. “Our partnership is focused on creating a new product category and leading the market in freshness and quality.”
The partnership will allow Walmart to source produce for its 280 California stores after the Compton facility opens later this year. Through Walmart, Plenty wants to transform the food supply chain to deliver food that is better for people and the planet at accessible prices.
“As the largest grocer in the US, Walmart is committed to environmental responsibility and regeneration. We are always reimagining our food solutions and how we deliver them to sustain and nourish our customers in ways that are good for people and the planet,” a Walmart spokesperson told Sustainable Brands. “With one of the most impressive US patent portfolios in the industry, Walmart believes that Plenty’s proprietary technology meaningfully improves on traditional agriculture’s use of water and land. This is another way we are bringing our customers the freshest, highest-quality foods at the affordable prices they expect.”
Plenty’s Compton facility will be its highest-output, indoor, vertical leafy greens farm; the company also recently announced the building of the first indoor vertical farm dedicated to strawberries in partnership with Driscoll’s, which will be located on the East Coast.
“We’ve invested millions of dollars in creating the best technology for indoor vertical farming, and are eager to scale it as we build farms all around the world,” Worth stated. “Our plant science teams are responsible for researching over 1,000 different varieties of plants in our R&D facility based in Laramie, Wyoming. This research is incredibly exciting, as we’ve demonstrated that we can grow many varieties with our vertical tower approach.”
In the next five years, Plenty plans to expand beyond leafy greens and strawberries into tomatoes and more. The company has not yet announced additional sites; but ultimately, it plans to deploy globally to achieve its mission.