There’s a new indoor farming company in town.
Today, New Jersey-based Bowery comes out of stealth to announce that it has raised $7.5 million in angel and seed funding to launch its new vertical farming business.
Founded by tech entrepreneur Irving Fain in October 2014 with co-founders David Golden and Brian Falther, Bowery has built a vertical farming facility in New Jersey that uses automation, machine learning, and vision systems to monitor and tend to its crops.
The business will start by selling baby kale, basil, Bowery blend, Bowery kale mix, arugula, and butterhead lettuce, which it grows without any pesticides or agrichemicals.
Fain and his team of engineers and agriculture scientists built the farm from the ground up to create a proprietary growing system that Fain believes is a scalable way to provide fresh, local food more efficiently and sustainably.
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Bowery’s vertical farms are driven by LED and hydroponic technology. The farm is stacked vertically in a completely controlled environment that’s monitored by Bowery’s farm operating system. The “brains of the farm”, as Fain calls it, draws in data from a network of sensors across the facility that are measuring a variety of data points that impact the growth of the plant.
These sensors include cameras and the FarmOS uses computer vision to detect changes in the plant. By correlating these images against other variables detected by the sensors such as humidity or temperature, the software can determine the drivers of changes in plant health, taste or quality, according to Fain.
“Through machine learning, the system can learn how the various variables within the farm can drive changes in the flavor and health of the plants, and the system can also be automated to make any necessary changes to the environment in which the plant is growing,” he told AgFunderNews.
This operating system is not necessarily new — motorleaf is building a similar sensing and automation tool for indoor farmers — but Bowery has built the technology as a vertically integrated farming business.
“We made the decision to be a vertically integrated company because we want to have control from seed to store to ensure a high-quality product that we can stand behind,” said Fain. “And we want to build a brand.”
Bowery is very focused on the flavor profile of its crops and has the endorsement of celebrity chef and restauranteur Tom Collichio. Collichio is an angel investor in Bowery and is also serving Bowery produce in two of his restaurants, Fowler & Wells, and Craft.
“We can make our arugula spicier or more peppery by tweaking certain variables including the intensity of light, the amount of light, the nutrients it receives and so on,” he said. “There are various stresses that can have an impact on the flavor profile of a crop.”
(Bowery treated me to a tasting and I had arugula that tasted of wasabi!)
Fain likened it to the production of wine where a certain amount of rain, a poorly-timed frost, and temperature variations will impact whether it’s a vintage year or not.
“Wine growers might know the certain drivers for a vintage year, and they might be able to predict if one year will be, but they can’t control it,” he said. “We can and it’s much more than lighting recipes.”
Bowery produce will soon hit the shelves of Whole Foods and Foragers in the New York tristate area and the company will continue to target retailers and restaurants as its core customer base.
The company raised $7.5 million in seed funding back in October 2015 with First Round Capital leading the round. Box Group, Lerer Hippeau Ventures, SV Angel, Homebrew, Flybridge, Red Swan, RRE, and Urban.us also participated. As well as a group of angel investors: Matt Salzberg (founder and CEO of Blue Apron), Sally Robling (chairman of Plated, 30 years of experience in the food industry), Tom Colicchio, and Adam Eskin (founder and CEO of DigInn).