Benjamin Swan started an agritech company in Singapore six years ago, which relies on a more efficient and sustainable way of farming. As offbeat as it may sound, the idea for a vertical farm occurred to the Australian when he couldn’t find fresh salads in Singapore’s grocery stores.
“When I first moved here from Australia over 12 years ago, I was frustrated that it was so difficult to get good produce here,” he told. But he knew that the problem did not lie with distributors or farmers because, by the time the produce is flown to Singapore from different countries, the greens are already wilting in the bag. “The other thing that frustrated me was the food waste that would accumulate at the bottom of the bag if I didn’t eat the greens within 12 hours,” he said.
But funnily enough, it was a Facebook post that brought in the real motivation for Swan to go deeper into vertical farming. “When I read a Facebook article about vertical farming, I thought to myself, ‘hey, this is cool and I can grow myself a great salad at home’,” he said. To gain more knowledge of the industry, Swan travelled to different countries and met experts in traditional farming. As he gained more knowledge, he realised that traditional farming is harmful to the environment.
This is when he started testing out by growing plants indoors while still holding on to his full-time job as an engineer. Initially, he began to grow kale in the basement of a swimming pool at over 42 degrees. After 18 months of heavy research, he, along with his co-founder Martin Lavoo, launched Sustenir Group, a vertical farm that sells its products in stores like Redmart and Cold Storage.
The indoor farming facility has sensors operating 24 hours to provide the company with data on the health and status of all its plants. The parameters used include humidity, temperature, and light. After receiving data from the sensors, its system adjusts the environment for each plant accordingly.
“We use zero pesticides. Our produce is 100 per cent clean, meaning they go beyond organic. As we know, organic products still use pesticides, albeit lesser harmful ones. Not only do we use zero pesticides, but we also make sure haze/pollution doesn’t come to the room,” Swan said.
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