“The pandemic has highlighted the advantages of vertical farming. but the cost of materials has risen to the point of stopping some projects,” says Robert Colangelo, founder and CEO of Green Sense Farms.
Green Sense Farms is an Indiana-based company that designs and builds turnkey vertical farms, greenhouses and integrated facilities. The company also, provides horticulture consulting and contract research in its two 100,000-cubic foot indoor grow rooms. Recently, Green Sense Farms finished a feasibility study in partnership with an architectural firm for a mixed-used entertainment facility that would include multiple restaurants, with leafy greens provided by an in-house vertical farm.
“There is a growing opportunity for Agri-centric, mixed-used developments. We’ve received a lot of proposals to work with hotels and resorts to have their own agricultural systems. People want to see their food being grown so tying production into hospitality and resort facilities is the way of the future,” explains Robert.
While many people have innovative, unique ideas for localizing food production, Robert explains that it can be difficult to “ground those projects in market reality” and ensure that the project can be built and operated profitably. For example, retrofitting indoor industrial buildings can be made difficult by the fact that these spaces were not originally built to withstand high humidity levels, they have columns that impede fam buildout, require concrete cuts to bury irrigation pipes, and lack adequate floor drains. All of these elements can be addressed but do come at a financial cost.
According to Robert, Green Sense Farms is particularly sensitive to two major design challenges: microclimates and automation. To address microclimates, Green Sense has developed a vertical robotic fan to improve air movement throughout the crop canopy. The company has also designed a modular scalable farm system using shipping containers as pre fabricated structures to house growing functions
“A lot of companies try to fit the whole farm into one container. We broke down the farming components and put each into one container so that we can create more of a Lego block system that can be scalable. This includes seeding, germination, grow rooms, equipment room, and packing room,” says Robert.
With respect to automation, it has been about finding the sweet spot where it becomes worth the capital and operating expenditures. Breaking automation into four parts, Robert notes that off-the-shelf automation components for seeding, delivery of growing inputs and packing is well developed and should remain the focus for the time being. However, conveyance systems for bringing plants into and out of the farm are less developed.
“In the long term, automation will definitely rule agriculture but it isn’t yet reliable enough and is too expensive. You’re trading cheap labor for more expensive labor to design and repair the machinery. When your farm is fully automated, you’re at the mercy of the automation,” Robert explains.
Robert Colangelo, founder and CEO
Green Sense Farms
6525 Daniel Burnham Drive, Suite B
Portage, IN 46368-1793