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Posts Tagged ‘sustainable agriculture’

photo: EcoVeggies

In The New York Times on Monday, I write about how Newark is becoming a hotbed of sustainable agriculture, or Ag 2.0:

On the rooftop garden at St. Philip’s Academy, a private school in Newark, students tend plots of everything from broccoli and beets to sweet corn and spaghetti squash.

But since August they’ve also been helping to farm arugula, chervil, fun jen, and komatsuna in a machine installed in a fourth-floor science classroom that grows crops without soil or sunshine.

Made by an Ithaca, N.Y., company called AeroFarms, the aeroponic growing system is owned by EcoVeggies, a startup formed by former three Wall Street technology workers who aim to transform Newark’s abandoned and vacant buildings into so-called vertical farms.

“The produce will sold and used in the areas immediately surrounding Newark to start with and then we expect to be able to service the immediate tri-state area,” Richard Charles, one of EcoVeggies founders, wrote in an e-mail message.

At St. Philip’s Academy, leafy greens are planted in a cloth bed and irrigated with a nutrient-infused mist. Light is provided by LED lamps, which are more energy-efficient than conventional lighting and can be placed closer to the beds. The LED lamps also provide pest control, according to AeroFarms’ chief executive, Ed Harwood, because they can be set to emit certain wavelengths that disrupt insects’ breeding.

AeroFarms is leasing the machine, which stands 7 feet tall by 10 feet long, to EcoVeggies for use in the pilot project at St. Philip’s. It can produce about 20 pounds of produce per harvest, Mr. Charles said.

EcoVeggies and AeroFarms are part of the sustainable agriculture movement, sometimes called Agriculture 2.0, which seeks to combine technology and organic farming to grow crops in urban areas that often lack access to fresh food.

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In The New York Times’ Business of Green special section on Thursday, I write about Janine Yorio, a 33-year-old former Wall Street investment banker who is connecting sustainable agriculture startups and venture capitalists:

SILICON VALLEY’S apricot and cherry orchards disappeared decades ago, replaced by semiconductor plants and office parks populated by technologists. Now some of the Valley’s most prominent venture capitalists are looking to the region’s roots for what could be the next new thing in an old business: agriculture.

“Sustainable agriculture is a space that looks as big or bigger than clean tech,” said Paul Matteucci, a venture capitalist with U.S. Venture Partners in Menlo Park, Calif. “Historically, we have not seen a ton of entrepreneurial activity in agriculture, but we are beginning to see it now, and the opportunities are huge.”

A catch-all phrase for environmentally beneficial farming, sustainable agriculture has long been the province of organic enthusiasts. But venture capitalists say a growing awareness of conventional agriculture’s contribution to climate change and concerns over its consumption of water and energy are creating markets for technological innovation to minimize those effects.

The Johnny Appleseed of what is being called Agriculture 2.0 is a 33-year-old former Wall Street investment banker named Janine Yorio. Her New York firm, NewSeed Advisors, brings together sustainable agriculture entrepreneurs and investors.

At the Four Seasons hotel in East Palo Alto, Calif., last month, NewSeed Advisors attracted a crowd of well-dressed investors from some of Silicon Valley’s top venture capital firms. They packed a ballroom to hear entrepreneurs pitch start-ups developing everything from nontoxic pesticides and analytical tools for soil analysis to indoor urban farming systems.

“If you’re interested in investing in energy and water, you become interested in investing in agriculture,” said Amol Deshpande, a venture partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, who attended the conference. “A lot of ag opportunities are going to be driven by water, it’s availability and cleanliness.”

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