"We have the best strawberry in the world. Who wants to taste it?”

“Hey, we have the best strawberry in the world. Is there somebody here who wants to taste it?”  That was all it took for a pair of MBA students to charm their way into some of New York City’s most gilded kitchens. In the spring of 2017, Hiroki Koga and Brendan Somerville used their newly acquired fruit-importing licenses to escort a suitcase of strawberries out of Japan.

After the pair made it past each kitchen door, the chefs they met with confirmed their suspicions. “Basically everyone said, ‘I want these berries,'” Koga recalls. The figures the chefs provided were encouraging, and the pair walked away from their cold-calling marathon happy. 
All that Koga and Somerville had to do now was figure out how to grow a kind of berry that had never been grown before in the United States, using a technique — vertical farming — that had never produced berries at commercial scale anywhere.

“Growing up, I’d always thought I wanted to take whatever was the best that Japan had to offer and share it with the rest of the world,” he says. Working for several years with dozens of vertical farms, he gradually began to think that what Japan might do best in the world are fruits and vegetables.

Although commercial vertical farms had taken off years earlier in Japan, where 200 such farms are operating, including Spread, which produces 11 million heads of lettuce annually, the practice only started picking up in the U.S. around the time Koga matriculated at Berkeley. “It’s just getting to the point where there’s starting to be a steady supply of Americans that are trained up and ready to move into vertical farming,” says AeroFarms cofounder Marc Oshima.

Alternatively, one could simply skip straight to a premium product like strawberries, which Koga refers to as “the holy grail” of vertical farming. “From talking with founders in this space in the U.S., it became very clear to me that I had the most experience in this industry and everyone was just really focused on how to grow leafy greens right,” Koga says. “They had raised so much money, and they had so much pressure from investors to start generating revenue, so I knew that no matter how much time I spent trying to convince them, they’re not gonna ditch all that and concentrate all of their efforts in developing strawberries.”

Read the complete article at www.fastcompany.com.

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