Vertical Roots, a Charleston-based agricultural start-up, is working to shift the paradigm yet again. “We want to revolutionize how communities grow and consume food,” says Andrew Hare, a founder along with his friend Matt Daniels. The two high school buddies reconnected in 2016, discovering a shared interest in farming. “Matt, a mechanical engineer by training, was experimenting with peppers and tomatoes. I grew up growing orchids,” says Hare. Curious about the potential for indoor farming, they began scribbling notes on the backs of napkins.
“We started with a small 10- by 12-foot space in a friend’s warehouse, where Matt soldered LED lights, and we built a little retention pond. We took downspouts from Lowes to make our first nutrient filter technologies, or NFTs, which is still how we grow today, only it’s a lot more sophisticated,” says Hare. They grew a few hundred heads of lettuce in their DIY system, and licensed the name Vertical Roots. Soon, they began selling lettuces at farmers markets and eventually to GrowFood Carolina.
A year later, Hare and Daniels met Don Taylor, the former chief technology officer for Benefitfocus, who was using his tech prowess to develop proprietary farm technology, creating indoor aeroponic pods out of recycled shipping containers. “Don’s team wanted to create sustainable job opportunities for farmers, and we wanted to operate farms, so it was a perfect synergy,” says Hare. Vertical Roots now operates under the parent company, AmplifiedAg, Inc., run by Taylor, which engineers fully automated, controlled environment agriculture (CEA) vertical container farms.
By 2018, Vertical Roots was growing in six containers in Summerville that provided fresh lettuce to Dorchester County schools and two containers on Daniel Island to service area restaurants. Meanwhile, AmplifiedAg secured a location in a large warehouse on Clements Ferry Road for manufacturing and software development, where Vertical Roots relocated its Charleston farm. Now the company headquarters, it has an R&D farm for experimenting with “the next generation of products, such as tomatoes and strawberries, to offer our customers and retailers,” says Hare.
Read the complete article at www.charlestonmag.com.