2. Vertical farms see surge in demand
Indoor, urban vertical farms — which grow produce in warehouses with tightly controlled climate and light conditions — are seeing a surge in demand that could signal a lasting change in how we get our fruits and vegetables.
Why it matters: "People are more concerned about who is handling their food, where it's coming from, how many stops did it have before hitting the shelves," said Irving Fain, CEO of Bowery Farming.
- "Those were always things people cared about, but this situation has amplified them and increased attention and focus on those variables."
The big picture: While the majority of people now live in cities, very little of our food is produced there.
- COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in supply-chain logistics. Food packaging plants and farms have shut down due to sick workers, and trucking routes have been disrupted by lockdowns. Harvests are being left to rot in the fields.
Bowery has two farms in Kearny, New Jersey, near New York City. The company sells its leafy greens and herbs in stores in the tri-state area. It has opened a third farm outside Baltimore.
- Business has more than doubled with some online distributors and is up between 25% and 50% in stores.
The other coast: Plenty grows leafy greens mixes, arugula and kale in an indoor vertical farm just outside San Francisco. CEO Matt Barnard said the company has more than doubled its shipments since the coronavirus outbreak began.
- "When this crisis started, the demand immediately jumped," he said. "We've sustained a high rate of production relative to before the crisis, and we've been increasing it week over week."
- Barnard said the surge in demand has accelerated the company's plans to open additional farms, but he declined to say when and where.
- The company plans to start growing berries next.
Reality check: Vertical farms won't be cropping up in every city anytime soon. They're expensive both to get up and running and to operate, with high energy costs in order to power thousands of LED lights and sophisticated ventilation systems.
- What's next: Many vertical farms have started with leafy greens, but they'll need to expand to a much wider variety of fruits and vegetables to be a viable, large-scale source of food.
Go deeper: Coronavirus has hit American farmers from all sides