“Once Covid came in and supply chains got disrupted, it was hard to get food, and we were heavily relying on local produce. Vertical farming provided the opportunity to transform the way we connect with food. Across different industries, it was time to build, and so our journey began,” says Emiliano Gutierrez, CEO and co-founder of Raiz Farm.
Raiz farm, a vertical farming startup based in Lisbon, is rooted in a vision to help solve challenges in the water-food-energy nexus. The concept and ambition are a mix of perspectives from around the world. While working in the Energy sector there and building solutions for Decentralised Energy resources (DERs), Emiliano went deeper into the high-energy consumption of controlled environment agriculture and saw it as an opportunity to build something more efficient for the farms and the energy grid.
Currently, Raiz Farm is looking for support through a crowdfunding campaign to build their concept farm which will be launched around June 2022. The farm can be found in Beato, the new creative heart in old industrial Lisbon. The farm comprises an upper growing area of 18 m2, starting with six barrels, and has the capacity to expand into another eight systems. Once the funding will be completed, the team will be able to grow over 9,600 plants a year for consumers, restaurants, and the Salvation Army.
The farm uses 3D NFT Hydroponic Barrels with an average of 144 plants per system. Emiliano explains that they are efficient and easy to work with, keeping the roots hanging freely without clogging the system and not needing full disassembly for cleaning.
Aponix barrels will be used with a rotating base to maximize light exposure along with Agrivoltaics to generate electricity while still letting the light through. The farm is a hybrid model between natural sunlight and supplementary LEDs to save on costs. On the software and IoT side, the farm uses a multitude of sensors, such as temperature, humidity, CO2, light intensity and spectrum, pH, electrical conductivity, and more.
The sensors are used to record the conditions inside and outside of the farm while applying reinforcement learning algorithms to predict optimal control strategies for the plants.
“While we are very excited to deploy our flagship farm in the following months, for us this is still the beginning of our vision to deploy a network of distributed farms throughout Portugal and locations that can face food security threats worldwide,” Emiliano notes.
Portugal has high potential
According to Emiliano, Portugal is rising in many dimensions, including its innovation ecosystem, impact-driven organizations, and circular economy startups. Vertical farming is also gaining traction and gaining awareness of consumers, restaurants, and stakeholders. “The hunger for local and sustainable produce is here to stay amongst the Portuguese and international community in Lisbon and beyond.
“We see the potential for space transformation throughout the city, decarbonizing spaces and connecting people to the way their food is grown. There is interest in different kinds of crops that are currently being imported and can be grown locally.”
Transitioning into a niche
As the company evolves from its testing phase at a test chamber, they are focusing on satisfying the rising demand for alternative proteins and high nutrient crops such as lupini, peas, and spinach. While transitioning into that niche, they will keep growing selected herbs for their chefs and community as well as exploring new kinds of crops such as tomatillo, the Mexican husk tomato.
In the future, Raiz Farm aims to develop auto-sustainable farms in terms of electricity and water, pushing the boundaries of the circular economy, to grow food in city centers. The team proudly shares to be onboard with the NEAR Foundation, spearheading the link between physical and digital assets. Together, they will start the conversation around impact tokenization within vertical farming.