“Crop One is developing models that will act as benchmarks for other farms,” says Craig Ratajczyk, chief executive officer of vertical farming company Crop One. With vertical farms sprouting all over the US in recent years, Craig explains that Crop One differentiates itself by adopting a plants-first approach that takes advantage of available technology without making the growing all about technology.
“Technology is always going to advance so we’re not trying to grow plants around the technology but to instead make plants the premier product for consumers,” says Craig.
Crop One sells its leafy green products through its FreshBox Farms retail brand, which is available in 30+ stores throughout the northeastern US. While the company was established in 2012, its products first hit the shelves in 2015 and now include spinach, arugula, kale, lettuce blends, and many more.
As Craig sees it, there is no downside to vertical farming as the younger generations are demanding a transparent, local food system. Given FreshBox Farms’ success, Crop One is confident that its products will continue to resonate with consumers and always find a market. The only limit, according to Craig, is how much Crop One can produce.
“We need to make bigger facilities and are going through another round of funding to do exactly that. We intend to break ground within the next year on a few more facilities so that within the next few years, we can become even more prominent in the industry,” says Craig.
Due diligence: a key success factor
Craig explains that due diligence is essential to the success of individual vertical farms and the entire industry. By thoroughly examining other farms’ successes and failures, new vertical farms can avoid repeating mistakes that have previously been made. Due diligence is necessary for developing an optimal financial, marketing, and scientific strategy. Similarly, Craig explains that leadership at vertical farms needs to understand that their success goes beyond building the farm.
“People don’t realize how complicated it is to run a farm. Even with technology, it takes discipline to make things grow. Your whole operating model is critical,” Craig explains.
At Crop One, the plant science, computer systems, and engineering teams work harmoniously to ensure that the entire process, from farm building to product sales, is as efficient as possible.
Policy support needed for US vertical farm industry
While vertical farming is expanding throughout the US, Craig explains that development is being slowed by the lack of relevant public policy.
“We need education for consumers, public support for our programs, and a label in grocery stores. It needs to start with the public policy so that we’d have the environment for anyone to participate in the industry,” says Craig.
Craig also explains that there are incentive programs to encourage the implementation of wind and solar energy; the same could be done for vertical farming. This, according to Craig, would be further encouraged if land-grant universities became more involved in developing the science behind vertical farming. Despite the barriers to development, Craig is very optimistic about the future of vertical farming in the US.
“In 20 years, I envision lots of vertical farms around the world. We have people from all over knocking on our door, asking us to build a vertical farm in their communities. We’re always looking for partnerships to grow this space and as long as we’re all doing what we can to push this forward, we will all benefit,” Craig says.
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Craig Ratajczyk, CEO