In a parking lot off a busy street in Brooklyn, a team of urban farmers weaves in and out of a dozen nondescript shipping containers. Inside, a handful of workers move gingerly through vertical towers growing herbs such as basil and cilantro in climate-controlled conditions, lit by pink LED lights. Workers wheel boxes of packaged herbs around the asphalt, from the repurposed buildings to delivery vehicles, disappearing behind the white units. Nearby, a fleet of bright blue Tesla Revels, intended for ride-sharing, gleams in the sun.
This is the Brooklyn operation of Square Roots, a venture capital-backed vertical farming company founded by Kimbal Musk—a techno-optimist like his older brother, Tesla CEO Elon Musk—who has aimed for optimal growing conditions in the high-tech facilities of Square Roots. But despite his ability to provide the best climate for crops, he hasn’t had the same outcome with the people he employs; six months ago, Square Roots workers announced they would be petitioning to form a union.
The 14 farm employees at the Brooklyn site manage everything on the farm, from facilities maintenance to growing, packing, and delivering the fresh herbs. After a few turbulent years, disrupted by the pandemic and safety concerns, those workers want a bigger say in how the company is run. Over the course of the past six months, Civil Eats spoke to three current and former Square Roots employees about why they petitioned to form a union; we granted them anonymity to protect them from potential retaliation. Over a period of four months, Square Roots declined repeated requests to comment.
Asked why they were unionizing, one employee said, “we wanted to have a voice [in decision-making].” They added, “people who work on the farm all the time, instead of being consulted about decisions that will affect production, are just informed about them.”
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