**This post, originally entitled 5 Online Platforms Helping Future Indoor Farmers and published on March 2, 2017, has been updated to include five more resources.
Editor’s Note: Chris Powers is an entrepreneur, writer, and urban agriculture evangelist who is on a mission to grow and promote environmental technologies. He is particularly focused on the indoor farming space and here lists five online resources that are helpful for indoor farmers. Powers is currently working on an online summit for the vertical farming industry.
Author’s Note: After my first blog post on AgFunder titled 5 Online Platforms That Are Helping Future Indoor Farmers, I received a lot of audience feedback about other projects that should have been included. I’ve also been interviewing dozens of farmers, entrepreneurs, and technologists for an upcoming online event that have taught me a lot since this article was written. So I thought it appropriate to revise and update this post to reflect a few of the resources that I have discovered since my original publication. I hope you enjoy.
Indoor farming is a business and business is hard
For all of the buzz surrounding vertical farming, urban agriculture, and the future of food production, we must remember that growing food and selling it for a profit is not easy. Even talented, well-funded startups are having a hard time thriving in the current landscape. The recent bankruptcy of FarmedHere is an example. The fact remains — farming is a business and business is hard.
I have a friend who started an urban farm, had a good business plan, and predictable, repeat customers, only to have their entire production completely wiped out by externalities. Due to an insufficient HVAC system, CO2 levels spiked periodically and killed their mushroom production. Other examples of such externalities can include issues with water quality, and pest control, to name a couple.
- Grow crops.
- Make Profit.
…but this is wrong. There are so many more externalities that farmers have to consider to be successful, including, but not limited to:
- Profitability of various crops.
- Sales and go-to-market strategy.
- The cost of acquiring new customers.
- Marketing strategy.
- Operations and distribution.
- Legal and regulatory issues.
- System design and environmental controls
- …and much more.
Every failed business can teach us what to do better – and we can do better.
We owe a lot to entrepreneurs who venture into unchartered territory, take risks, and either prove or disprove a business hypothesis.
The biggest challenge that I see in the development of urban agriculture is that there are a lot of people operating independently and often reinventing the wheel on their own. I have seen more than one person from a software background who knew nothing about plants jump into the fray and say:
“It’s okay; we’ll start small and iterate our way to becoming the Solar City of vertical farming,”
They do so while ignoring decades of plant science research and controlled environment agriculture (CEA) growing best practices. I have seen more than one group of founders re-invent the wheel in private and burn through their capital before closing up shop.
There are many organizations that have realized that education and sharing best practices is crucial to the success of beginning farmers.
The companies that have been most successful have three things in common:
Knowledge of growing.
Sales and marketing expertise.
Operations / distribution experience.
A possible solution to this problem is to foster an environment of industry collaboration and education so that we can share these kinds of stories to make sure new farmers don’t end up making the same mistakes that we already know how to solve.
Here is a list of online education platforms that are helping future farmers to be more successful. Please share these with them if you know anyone who is embarking on their agricultural journey.
10 Platforms That Are Helping Farmers Succeed
Upstart University – A platform initially developed by Bright Agrotech for beginning farmers, savvy entrepreneurs, and novices alike who want to feed their communities. It is run by experienced farmers who have been through every step of the process. Upstart University covers diverse topics such as systems science and design, financing, legal, regulatory, and operational topics. The courses help you to take a proactive approach to planning, starting, and running a modern farm, helping you to avoid mistakes that may otherwise kill your farm before you even start selling to the market.
State of the Soil – This is a virtual conference and education platform with speakers from around the world. SotS was built to help smallholder farmers with sales and marketing. I was blown away by Nick’s summit, which covers social media, farm operations, and the psychological game of becoming a successful business owner. Nick runs a profitable salad subscription business that is run out of his small farm, and he’s on a mission to help other farmers win in the market.
Association for Vertical Farming (see AVF Academy) – The Association for Vertical Farming is a fast-growing nonprofit that is focused on industry collaboration and bringing together innovators in the indoor ag market. The AVF Academy was formed to share industry resources and best practices with its members to help people from around the world to get involved with Vertical Farming and Urban Agriculture. If you are interested in contributing to this platform, the AVF Edu project group is accepting volunteer contributions.
AgTech Innovation Center – This is an online education platform backed by people with experience in greenhouse growing. This site brings expertise in hosting e-learning programs and is backed by organizations with greenhouse growing experience. The AgTech Innovation Center will eventually host educational content and incubate future agricultural technologies with its live training sites and investor base.
The Vertical Farming Summit – Live events are one of the best ways to get together and share ideas about what is working and what’s not… but live events can be expensive and difficult to travel to. This virtual conference was started to bring the experience of live events to people from around the world at a fraction of the cost and carbon footprint. Sign up to attend, and this event will stream free for a week at the end of April.
Agritecture Workshops – The blog of Blue Planet Consulting founder Henry Gordon-Smith has launched a series of interdisciplinary workshops focused on collaboration towards design and innovation in urban agriculture and vertical farming. These one-day workshops match professional architects, growers, entrepreneurs, engineers, marketers, designers, and sustainability managers together along with a shared mission: develop a viable “agritecture” concept for the host city — each with the goal of demonstrating creativity, sustainability, and feasibility when integrating agriculture into cities.
Commercial Vertical Farming Workshops at Farm.one – Rob Laing runs a vertical farm in the heart of Manhattan’s financial district that grows fresh, unique, and rare crops for chefs and home cooking enthusiasts. Farm.one offers a variety of classes and farm tours for those interested in vertical farming and urban agriculture on topics such as Hydroponics 101, Micro Greens Production, and Advanced Plant Care, to name a few. Farm.one and Blue Planet Consulting recently teamed up to teach a premium course called Commercial Urban Farming — that includes a deep dive on the business and operational aspects of building and running an indoor farm. I see this class as a crucial bridge between being a curious outsider and working on your first farm build.
Square Roots is an urban farming accelerator that’s empowering the next generation of real food entrepreneurs. By now, you have probably seen one of their many press releases and probably have read Kimbal Musk’s Medium post, but it’s still worth signing up for the Square Roots email list and seeing how you can get involved on a trip to NYC.
The Nick Greens Grow Team – Nick Greens has a long history growing plants in controlled environments and has recently started an entrepreneurship program in Chicago. Nick has also been putting out a lot of great educational content on his blog, and email list focused specifically on how to become a grower.
The Open Agriculture Community – I stumbled upon this group quite by accident while trying to find more ways to get involved with MIT’s OpenAg and Food Computing projects online. This forum isn’t widely publicized and is highly technical, but I wanted to make you aware of it if you’ve been wanting to roll up your sleeves and build a food computer or contribute to the project.
I have a strong belief that education and collaboration are crucial to launching the future of the food movement. Education platforms also represent profitable and scalable business opportunities for supporting emerging technologies.
I wanted to share this article with the AgFunder audience to help farmers be more successful. If you know an aspiring grower, or someone who is running a farm currently, please pass these resources along. I want to see every aspiring farmer live their dreams and build a prosperous lifestyle.
There are so many opportunities to get involved in the future of farming. I would recommend signing up for all of the mailing lists for the above organizations to get involved.
Feel free to reach out to me via my speaker page, or on my blog here.
Is there something I missed? Let us know by emailing [email protected].