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  • Erin Sharp

Fresh Food, safe and healthy all year long, can and should be just down the street from you.

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

Food security benefits will continue to accelerate CEA efforts to design more-efficient systems and utilize renewable resources to enhance the sector’s energy security.

It may not be “pie in the sky" in the near future to reduce food miles and rejuvenate communities with access to healthy fresh leafy greens, all within a sustainable business model, because we may soon be able to have healthy food inside our cities, without detrimental impacts on the environment that energy intensive lighting systems can have on food factories.

Venture capitalists often follow herd mentality, as hundreds of millions of dollars have flowed to indoor farming companies in recent years. But new entrants into the category are investing as well. Chinese produce platform Tongcheng Life closes $200m Series C round was led by a Livestream company, and the investment arms of Enterprise Singapore and the city-state’s Economic Development Board are launching a SG$285 million ($206 million) fund to provide financial support to startups working on “national priorities” such as food security amid the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. Singapore’s Agrocorp received a $50m sustainability loan to enhance Covid-stricken food supply. Last month another Singapore-based agribusiness, Olam, secured a $176 million loan to boost smallholder production and encourage greater digital adoption among farmers in the region.

Other notables, Infarm with $100 million, Plenty with $200 million, AeroFarms with $100 million, and Bowery with $90 million.

We want these all to succeed, and the key to profitability may be using renewable energy- to reduce the cost of operations- namely the cost of energy on-site running LED lighting.

Right now, 60% of indoor farms in Japan are unprofitable, largely because of high energy use and cost. Most turn a profit because of government subsidies or by charging a premium to consumers for organic, fresh vegetables. Japan is continuing to invest in technology that could change that curve.

Today it is not cost-effective nor necessarily a good use of resources to cover enough land with solar panels to run an entire farm, but as the efficacies of LED improve, and sunlight daylighting systems, such as that being brought to market by a start-up in Boulder, SunPath that I am an advisor for, this all could change in the next few years—or sooner. As seen on the front page of the SunPath Tech web site- it can be done.

Today, Food security is certainly driving the change- driving dollars into AGTECH at a furious rate.

There are many reasons that this industry is attracting excitement and capital- and it could not come sooner. Reuters recently reported by late May, there were more than 600 cases of COVID-19 among agricultural workers in Yakima County, Washington. Of those, 62% were workers in the apple industry and other packing operations or warehouses, according to a Reuters review of data from county health officials.

The (production) line moves super fast. And you’re working side by side and back to back,” said Edgar Franks, political director with local farmworker union Familias Unidas por la Justicia in Washington state.

Carrot sales at U.S. stores rose 22% from a year ago in the 13 weeks to May 30, according to Nielsen data, as Americans bought nearly all their food from supermarkets with restaurants closed during coronavirus.

On May 19 the U.S. Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration said the government could use the Defense Production Act to keep fruit and vegetable lines moving. The act would give companies some liability protection if workers fall sick.

An FDA spokesperson said the act could be used “to protect the food supply and prevent significant food shortages.”

Coronavirus accelerated demand for plant based food- sometimes, the only “meat” option available in the empty refrigerators in the grocery stores- and several are reaching now for the meatless choice instead of the hamburgers that have been restocked.

Just over half of consumers think the food industry should focus on meat-free options to address potential meat shortages from plant closures and processing slowdowns, according to a poll from Rethink Priorities in conjunction with the Humane Society of the United States, which was reported on by Bloomberg. The poll of 998 people was conducted at the end of May.

There's a lot of sentimental attachment to local food production, healthy food locally produced brings pride - and erases the food deserts we are seeing in urban areas. Reducing the cost of operations, and increasing environmental sustainability by piping in pure sunlight on the food canopy will increase quantity, reduce harvest time, increase the antioxidant profile, and has been grown with improved taste profiles.

Pass that bowl of salad over please.

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