The Princeton Vertical Farming Project (PVFP) has shuttered its main farm following the departure of its founder, according to The Daily Princetonian.
The vertical farming initiative was founded in 2017 by Paul P.G. Gauthier, then an associate research scholar in plant physiology and environmental plant metabolism at the Princeton. The goal of the project, which included student collaborators and backing from the university’s Office of Sustainability, has been to research best practices for growing plants on vertical farms, including how plant growth is influenced by water, nutrients, and environmental surroundings. The project has also conducted numerous experiments that included an on-campus food hub, where students were asked to taste test greens grown in the vertical farms.
When I spoke to Gauthier in January of this year, he emphasized how much more the $13 billion vertical farming market needs to rely on data in order to expand. “I just wanted to study and provide data,” he said at the time. “Yes, we’re putting [farms] indoors. We never talk about where the waste water is going, how we get the water. Is it really worth it?”
To answer questions like that, Gauthier suggested an open-source model for vertical farming, where data about farming operations could be turned into a framework for other projects, companies and farms. In January, he said he would like to see PVFP provide such a model to the larger vertical farming industry.
The vertical farming makes a lot of headlines for funding news these days, from AeroFarms recent $100 million Series E round to Intelligent Growth System’s £5.4 million Series A round for its so-called plug-and-play system that automates most of the farming.
But as Gauthier suggested when we spoke in January, for every six-digit success story out there, there are dozens of failed initiatives and startups that have to close their doors due to operational costs, failure to break even, or even simply trying to scale too high too soon. We need more data on those stories to better understand what is and isn’t working in vertical farming, where it will be most useful in the future of agriculture, and how big that role will be.
Gauthier has moved on to a new position as Professor of Plant Science at Delaware Valley University in June. He told The Daily Princetonian that he hopes to reproduce the vertical farm model he developed at Princeton on a larger scale, so hopefully he will continue to tackle some of those bigger issues in vertical farming. He said he doesn’t rule out reviving PVFP at some point in the future if demand warrants it.
A PVFP offshoot at Forbes College was launched in 2018 and will continue operations.