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Posts Tagged ‘produce’

BY PATRICK SISSON

A high-tech greenhouse developer argues that preserving the agricultural landscape
requires a sustainable, scalable start-up.

FROM THE OCTOBER 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

One of the first things visitors will notice inside the sprawling AppHarvest complex—a 60-acre, 2.76-million-square-foot, 30-foot-high greenhouse in Morehead, Kentucky—is the blinding, almost antiseptic whiteness. A forest of tomato plants, green tendrils reaching up from nutrient-rich charcoal beds toward the glass roof, will soon be arranged in rows that stretch nearly a mile end to end. Walls, gutters, and flooring, all coated in white to reflect the sunlight, give the appearance of a soundstage.

“It’s just awe-inspiringly massive,” says Kentucky native Jonathan Webb, the company’s founder, about the experience of standing inside a space the size of 30 Tesla Gigafactories. Seedlings have already been planted, and by the end of the year, AppHarvest will be shipping the first of what it hopes will be an annual haul of 45 million pounds of fresh, Kentucky-grown tomatoes to grocers including Kroger, Walmart, and Costco. “We’re trying to use technology to align with nature and put nature first,” Webb says.

As its name suggests, AppHarvest views farming and food through a start-up lens. For Webb, who has a background in the solar industry, the central argument is sustainability. Tomatoes are grown year-round in a climate-controlled, chemical-free greenhouse using hydroponics, robotics, more banks of LED lights than a ballpark, and two species of wasps for natural pest control, resulting in significantly more produce per acre. Strategically placing one of North America’s largest greenhouses within a day’s drive of 70 percent of the U.S. population means less time between harvest and consumption, ideally resulting in a tastier tomato and less trucking emissions. Nearly $2 billion worth of tomatoes are currently shipped into the United States annually from farms and greenhouses in Mexico.

Webb argues he needs to go big to fight the dystopian farming practices of Big Agriculture, which run ever-larger industrialized operations that emit noxious levels of animal waste and fertilizers. Animals raised on huge CAFOs (concentrated animal feed operations), for instance, live in crowded misery, amid complexes that stain the landscape with so much ammonia and nitrogen, hydrogen sulfide, and methane that children nearby developed elevated levels of asthma. Artificial structures of glass and steel the size of airport terminals can free up the land by concentrating production. It’s a pragmatic strain of tech utopianism that asks if the sacrifice of a small portion of the landscape can serve the greater good. (more…)

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With new plant varieties hitting the market each year, someone has to make sure everyone plays by the rules.

With new plant varieties hitting the market each year, someone has to make sure everyone plays by the rules.

From the August 2015 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

The people behind Plant Watch want the name alone to strike fear into anyone illegally propagating plants that are under patent protection. Plant Watch began in 2005 as the U.S. arm of the Canadian Ornamental Plant Foundation (COPF), a nonprofit group that deals with royalty administration and monitoring for illegally propagated plants by growers who skip out on paying the required royalties for growing protected plant varieties. COPF started as “a gentleman’s agreement to grow plants and remit royalties to each other,” says Sylvia Mosterman, the executive director of Plant Watch and COPF. However, “people aren’t as gentlemanly as they used to be,” so COPF grew in response to monitor patented and trademarked plants from illegal propagation.

Plant patents, or plant breeders’ rights, as they are referred to outside the United States, are granted to “an inventor who has invented or discovered and asexually reproduced a distinct and new variety of plant,” according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website. Patenting a new variety of plant protects only against the unauthorized reproduction of a plant; as an extra layer of protection, a plant can be given a trademarked name, such as Hydrangea macrophylla Endless Summer, for easy identification by consumers. Breeders are the originators of these new plant varieties, and there are companies such as Bailey Nurseries or Monrovia that actively search for new plants from a variety of breeders to add to their corporate brand offerings. These companies usually have brand compliance rules in addition to (more…)

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