What Happens in Vegas . . . Could Signal a Change for the Future of Local Produce
Las Vegas may seem like an unlikely place to re-think the fresh produce supply chain, but for a relatively new start-up, the city’s commitment to high-end cuisine makes it a highly strategic choice for a headquarters.
A few miles from the bright lights, big ticket shows and flashy casinos of the Strip, Oasis Biotech has been operating a 215,000-square-foot vertical farm for the last 6 months. Earlier this year, members of the Mindsailing team took a tour of the recently completed facility, where field greens are grown hydroponically (without soil) under artificial light and a network of robotic systems. An offshoot of the China-based SananBio, the company completed a $30 million overhaul of the formerly vacant industrial property.
Save water, increase safety, reduce food miles, expand varieties
Oasis Biotech currently offers local restaurants vegetable varieties like romaine, cabbage, mint and mizuna, though the plan is to expand into soft fruits like strawberries and raspberries. In a city where 92% of food is shipped in by truck, the company also offers a distinct competitive advantage: local vegetables grown in less time, using less water and with greatly reduced risk of contamination.
With a growing season that lasts the entire year, Oasis Biotech has an audacious goal: to grow 1 million pounds of food in its first year of operation. Even at those levels of production, the Las Vegas facility is considered a pilot and if it proves successful, it could inform the rollout of similar farms across the country. At scale, the presence of year-round, mostly automated growing facilities in major cities could fundamentally change how produce is bought and consumed. Long-term, the company may shift to setting up similar facilities and selling them while also licensing their growing technologies.
Urban Vertical Farming could be a $6.3 Billion game changer
As impressive as the Oasis Biotech facility may be, it’s also a sign of exponential growth in the practice of urban vertical farming and it’s only going to increase, given the world’s growing populations and limited farmable land. The global vertical farming market is expected to reach $6.3 billion by 2023 – an 8.5x increase since 2013. A recent study led by researchers at Arizona State University, Google, China’s Tsinghua University and others found that if fully implemented in cities around the world, urban farming could generate up to 180 million metric tons of food each year.
The market for consumer-friendly vertical farming options also continues to expand. Here are a couple of examples that compliment residential settings:
Freight Farms – By repurposing 40-foot shipping containers, Freight Farms offers a self-contained, vertical growing facility that can be up and growing shortly after being delivered. For about $85,000, an ambitious farmer will take control of 256 crop columns and more than 4,500 growing sites, supported by irrigation, a precision climate system and an automated monitoring system that uses sensors and in-farm cameras. At peak operation, the Freight Farm can produce 500 full heads of lettuce each week.
ZipGrow – Farmers looking to take on a less intensive and costly system can consider the indoor vertical farming structures offered by ZipGrow. Their main product – the Farm Wall – comes in 2-, 4- or 8-tower configurations that circulate nutrient dense water and further support growing with fluorescent grow lights. The Ontario-based company noted that a 4-tower system could yield more than 300 pounds of greens each year.
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