Between a growing global population — which is estimated to reach 9.5 billion by 2050 — rapid urbanization and climate change, shifting agricultural to a more sustainable model is essential for safeguarding the future of our food system. Startups in the United States and Singapore are ready to rise to the challenge, championing food sustainability through new technologies and infrastructure solutions designed with urban environments in mind.
Reconnecting consumers with their food is a critical component of future-fitting the food system, but heading straight to the source — farms themselves — isn’t always an option. To close the gap, Boston-based startup Freight Farms developed the Leafy Green Machine (LGM), a refrigerated shipping container repurposed as an indoor hydroponic food growing unit.
The 40-foot containers can be installed just about anywhere — schools, corporate campuses, restaurants, hospitals, retail stores, etc. — and are capable of growing between two to four tons of produce a year (as much as a 1.7-acre farm). The controlled environment eliminates the need for herbicides and pesticides, and the system uses 90 percent less water than traditional farming methods — approximately one gallon per week.
High schools in Rhode Island have begun exploring the idea of adding Leafy Green Machines to their campuses in an effort to incorporate fresh, organic produce into their school lunch offerings and teach students about sustainable food production. Cumberland High School has already installed one of the systems. According to Clean Technica, students will be involved in the maintenance of the farm and Sodexo will serve the farm-fresh food in the school cafeteria. Similar projects have also been rolled out at the Boston Latin School, Georgia State University, Stonybrook University and UMASS Dartmouth.
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Leafy Green Machines are also being deployed by small businesses and soil farmers: The system is at the heart of Houston-based startup Acre in Box, which supplies kale and lettuces to local restaurants, and helped Karma Farm in Monkton, MD diversify its crops and expand its operations. The farm now supplies local farm-to-table restaurants in the Baltimore area with fresh and local produce.
Meanwhile, a new food sustainability accelerator in Singapore is helping startups bring their sustainable food solutions to scale.
A joint initiative of social impact startup incubator UNFRAMED and the Croeni Foundation, an environmental NGO, Makanpreneur is a four-month holistic training program that offers startups tackling food sustainability challenges comprehensive support from seasoned entrepreneurs and industry experts, training, funding and networking opportunities to develop sustainable food alternatives.
Two of the four startups selected for the program are focusing their efforts on enhancing food-system resiliency in Singapore via local production and precision technology. FarmX is harnessing the power of blockchain and IoT to create a precision farming technology that allows farmers to communicate with their plants. Sensors collect real-time data on temperature, humidity, soil moisture and nutrients, which farmers can access on their smartphones. The data can then be used to help urban growers increase productivity, reduce costs and reduce the likelihood of crop failure. Ecolution is also using precision agriculture technologies to take polyculture farms to the next level by boosting productivity and competitive advantage.
The Makanpreneur accelerator program will run until 28 March 2018, when participating startups will present their ideas to an audience of key players in the food industry and impact investment space. Winners will receive up to $10,000 in funding from the Croeni Foundation to scale their solutions.