The next few weeks we are going to look at starting your farming in a way that helps minimize risk and get up to scale as quickly as possible. Many people look at the indoor agriculture space, agape by the possibility. They do some back of the envelope math and determine that they should be able to make a small fortune selling locally grown lettuce at city farmer's market. Then they take the plunge, and for most people what they get is a lot more than they bargained for.
This is not a new problem. Dwight D. Eisenhower is quoted saying, "Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles a from the corn field." Falling into the pencil farming trap is even easier today than it was in the 1950s. This quote is talking about field farming a commodity. There are a lot of factors that cannot be controlled, like weather. People knew that the weather posed serious risks to their businesses. A drought or a flood could destroy an entire harvest. Plus farmers have little control over the price of corn, because it is a commodity that is bought and sold on the global markets.
Why Indoor Agriculture Seems Safer
The beauty of indoor agriculture is that it is within a controlled environment. The lighting, nutrient, and temperature levels are monitored and adjusted to keep them within a specific range. This takes out the environmental concerns that Eisenhower warned about. In theory, the environmental control makes indoor farming easy, or at least that is the premise that many people start with.
Plus, indoor growers are selling a niche product to customers willing to pay a price premium. Eliminating concerns caused by volatile global commodity markets. It's easy to find data that show a willingness to pay for local food and we've all been to farmers markets at noon when they are closing up and everything is gone... so people are buying the produce. Removing Eisenhower's other big concern.
Since, it's easy to find recommended growing conditions and sensors that tell you when those conditions need to be adjusted, many people jump all into vertical or indoor growing. They purchase a container that is retro-fitted to grow plants or maybe even purchase several buildings that can be turned into vertical farmers. Only after they've made the large investment and started to grow crops to they begin to understand that farming looks easy on paper, but in practice it's a lot more complicated.
As I mentioned, the next few weeks are going to look at how to move from pencil farming to leafy green production in a way that minimizes risks. This series will include, the importance of starting small and then scaling up, why every operation needs a head grower, and a personal favorite crop selection. You need to know who your customers are before you invest.
Check back next week for the first installment.