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Vertical farming continues to grow as western US faces chronic water shortage

Posted at 8:32 AM, Sep 20, 2022

Walking around Kalera’s vertical farm facility in Aurora, Colorado, feels like you’re in a sci-fi movie. Purple LED lights illuminate the rows upon rows of leafy greens.

CEO Jim Leighton says the idea behind Kalera has been 12 years in the making. Now it operates the world's largest network of vertical farming.

“There's a growing chasm between what science knows, what technology can deliver, and what food companies actually do," Leighton said. "And so Kalera sits right in the middle of that.”

Once water is brought into the facility, it’s purified and consistently reused which significantly reduces the amount of water they need. Kalera claims to use 97% less water than traditional farming. Facilities are popping up all across the U.S. and the world.

“The first was in Orlando, Florida, the second one in Atlanta, Georgia," Leighton said. "And we opened, recently, a facility in Houston, Texas. And then Denver is our most recent facility. Also, through an acquisition, we acquired a company in Kuwait, which if you think of Kuwait, that's a great example of what vertical farming can do and what Kalera can do, because we can put these things anywhere.”

The next facilities will be in Seattle, St. Paul and Singapore.

“Think of this, that we're harvesting continually 365 days a year," Leighton said. "So you'll see that being harvested in this facility today will be shipped either later today or tomorrow.”

The goal for Kalera is to provide a platform that can be replicated anywhere.

“We currently have the design of the future farm, so we're not going to have to iterate too much more," Leighton said. "We know what works. We can commercialize it much faster, we can bring it to profitability.”

Vertical farms in urban areas today could be a solution for food deserts and rural populations down the line. The basic requirements include access to major highways, a one-day drive to major population centers and an educated workforce that understands automation and plant science.

“We're just crossing the chasm to where this is becoming much more mainstream," Leighton said.

Leighton says the biggest challenge for any consumer-packaged goods company is remaining sustainable.