A couple of years ago, Valentinas Civinskas was just another investment banker. Today he's growing baby kale, rocket, and coriander in what's set to become Europe's largest vertical farm.
Civinskas's startup, Leafood, grows 12 kinds of green salad and herbs all year round in a massive warehouse on the industrial outskirts of Vilnius. The farm will become operational this week, and when it reaches its full capacity later this year, it's set to harvest a tonne of edible leaves per day — around a tenth of the total demand in Lithuania.
New vertical farms have been mushrooming around Europe in recent years — but with last year's energy price spikes, high inflation hitting consumers' pockets, and the economic recession, many such startups are struggling.
Last year Berlin-based Infarm, which has raised $471m from some of Europe's biggest VCs, was forced to lay off around 500 people — more than half of its workforce. Earlier in 2022, France's Agricool, which had raised €30m, went bankrupt.
But Civinskas says the size of his farm and the experience of one of its investors, a Taiwanese vertical farms maker YesHealth, puts Leafood in a different league — and he expects the company to be profitable by the end of the year. The startup has raised €6m in equity to date.
"You'll see a lot of bad news around vertical farming companies — because how can they be profitable when they are raising hundreds of millions to build that [small] size farm? The payback is impossible for investors. They're selling a vision, which is very difficult to realize; there is no economics behind it," he says.
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