New Jersey-based indoor-farming startup Bowery announced yesterday that it has raised $90 million in fresh funding. The round was led by Alphabet Inc.’s GV with participation from Temasek and Almanac Ventures, General Catalyst and GGV Capital (Bowery’s Series A investors), and various seed investors.
Bowery produces what founder Irving Fain calls “post-organic produce.” Or to put it more plainly, Bowery produces leafy greens in an indoor environment it controls with proprietary software. The FarmOS system, as it’s called, helps farmers manage crops by collecting data about water flow, light levels, humidity, and other environmental factors that impact the taste of greens. And because the farm is indoors, Bowery can grow its crops without soil, pesticides, or chemicals.
This new investment round brings Bowery’s total funding to $117.5 million. That sounds like a lot until you compare it to Softbank’s $200 million investment in Bowery’s West Coast competitor Plenty, which took place in July of 2017.
Both companies’ raises illustrate the enormous amount of interest in indoor and vertical farming right now. The latter field is expected to have a market valuation of more than $13 billion by 2024, and there are dozens of other companies working on various iterations of indoor farming today.
AeroFarms grows leafy greens inside a 70,000-square-foot facility in New Jersey and has backing from IKEA and Momofuku’s David Chang. Crop One Holdings and Emirates Flight Catering are building what they call “the world’s largest vertical farm.” And Ford Motors operates a farm in Detroit that helps feed the homeless.
Okay, but will leafy greens really feed the homeless? Will butter lettuce and fresh basil help alleviate the global food shortage we’re expected to face as the population nears 9 billion people?
By itself, indoor farming can’t do either of those things, at least not adequately. But that doesn’t render indoor farming an overhyped segment. What it does mean, though, is that we need to start moving beyond the leafy greens and start producing foods with a little more substance. Plenty says cucumbers and strawberries are next on its list. Meanwhile, it’s possible to grow root vegetables like turnips, beets, and sweet potatoes using hydroponics. It’s just more expensive and more challenging than basil.
Bowery says its new capital will go towards “scale its operation in new cities across the country and open multiple farms by the end of 2019.” There’s no word yet on whether those new farms will stick to leafy greens or branch out, though Fain did say Bowery is working on “scalable solutions for an impending climate and food crisis.”
We’ll hopefully see Bowery put those words into action by figuring out how to widen the possibilities of what we can grow with indoor farming.