The future of vertical farming begins on the genetic level. That’s the philosophy of Unfold, a Sacramento-based startup focused on innovating fruit and vegetable seeds to better serve indoor growing facilities.
Vertical farms use artificial light and take up less space than traditional farms. They are automated to control factors such as light, temperature and humidity. With a biochemistry background, John Purcell, president and CEO of Unfold, recognized a gap between open fields (and greenhouses) and controlled environments. He heard from many vertical farmers that seeds intended for outdoor use didn’t work as well indoors where plants are grown on shelves.
“They’ve made so many investments on lighting and mechanics, but they were trying to get by with seed varieties that were developed for other production systems,” Purcell says.
Unfold aims to fill that gap using seed genetics (germplasm) from vegetable crops to create new varieties best suited for vertical farms. The startup’s bimodal strategy begins with a screening phase, analyzing which germplasm yields optimal results, followed by a breeding phase to develop the varieties that thrive in a controlled environment.