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Upward Farms plans world’s largest indoor vertical farm

Dive Brief:

  • Upward Farms plans to build what it describes as the world’s largest indoor vertical farm in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. The 250,000-square-foot facility is scheduled to begin operations in early 2023, and supply microgreens throughout the Northeast “and beyond,” according to a press release.
  • The facility will produce greens using Upward Farms’ aquaponic platform. The vertical farm operator raises hybrid striped bass in tanks alongside its crops, and uses the fish manure to fertilize the plants. The facility also will allow Upward Farms to scale-up production and supply of its sustainably raised bass, which it recently made available for purchase to consumers and restaurants.    
  • Upward Farms has two other farms, located in Brooklyn, New York, but it plans to expand into new markets across the U.S. in 2023. After raising $121 million in a Series B round last year, the company is working to gain mass as several players in the vertical farming space expand into additional geographies, add new product lines and make a play to own a bigger slice of the $5.5 billion category globally. 

Dive Insight:

To grab investors’ and consumers’ attention, operators in the highly competitive vertical farming space need to go big. In this case, Upward Farms is embracing a physical scale for its operations that would dwarf other players. According to the company, its Pennsylvania farm will be two to four times larger than its competitors’ biggest facilities.

Despite stretching over about 6 acres, Upward Farms says its newest facility will stay within the sustainability footprint it established with its first two farms. The company expects the Pennsylvania mega-farm to save more than 100 million gallons of water and conserve more than 120 acres of land each year.

With an estimated 90% of leafy greens grown on the West Coast and 90% of seafood imported, Upward Farms said the facility’s location in the Northeast will also eliminate 1.7 million food transportation miles per year. 

“With this new facility, we’ll be able to reach some of the most populous areas of the US, and nearly 100 million Americans, within a single day of distribution versus the week it can take to receive products from the west coast,” Jason Green, the company’s co-founder and CEO, said in a statement.  

Still, Upward Farms’ plans to increase production dwarfs its current retail footprint, so it remains to be seen how quickly it can scale up and deliver on these projections.

The company’s USDA Certified Organic greens are stocked at Whole Foods Markets in New York City. In December, Upward Farms made its hybrid freshwater white and striped bass available to consumers and restaurants at Greenpoint Fish and Lobster in Brooklyn, New York. 

Upward Farms’ plans for building the world’s largest indoor vertical farm comes as other players in the space have announced their own ambitious growth plans.

Last week, New York-based Bowery Farming said it would expand beyond its Northeast and Mid-Atlantic footprint with two new farms serving the Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth markets. The facilities in Locust Grove, Georgia, and Arlington, Texas, are slated to open in the first quarter of 2023.

And Plenty Unlimited named Arama Kukutai as its new CEO this week where he will be responsible for growing the California-based vertical farming operator beyond its Western U.S. base. Plenty‌, which has a farm in‌ ‌South‌ ‌San‌ ‌Francisco and an R&D farm in Laramie, Wyoming, is building what it says will be the world’s highest-output vertical indoor farm in a 95,000-square-foot warehouse in Compton, California.

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