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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture

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Basil Grown Year Round in Alaska? Yes, and It’s Happening in A Shipping Container

May 27, 2013 |

basil from green winter farmWhat does a sustainable-minded farmer grow in Alaska where the average mean temperature is less than 30 degrees Fahrenheit most of the year? If you are Christopher and Crystal Boze at Green Winter Farms of Palmer, Alaska (about 45 minutes north of Anchorage), the answer would be basil – grown in a 40-foot-long shipping container and a 500-square-foot metal building called “the Space Station.”

“Normally, the earliest outside planting date around here is May 31st,” Crystal Boze said. “And by mid-September, everything’s gone or frozen.”

Boze and her husband quit their day jobs and launched Green Winter Farms three years ago. Their hydroponic system, set up in less than 1000 square feet of growing space, and warmed with LED grow lights, is astonishingly fertile – their yield of about 1.7 pounds per square foot of basil provides 14 local grocery stores, seasonal farmers markets and one local restaurant year-round with fresh basil. Read More

Self-fertilizing Garden Tower Rises to Encourage Home Gardening and Fight Hunger

February 26, 2013 |

Photo Credit: The Garden Tower Project.

Colin Cudmore, the inventor of the Garden Tower, a garden container with perforated tubing technology that facilitates the movement of worms and nightcrawlers within it, says he does not consider himself a gardener. Yet, Cudmore, and his two business partners, Tom Tlusty and Joel B. Grant, are preparing for full-scale production of a new gardening container concept that includes the worms, in a self-contained mini-ecological system.

Cudmore germinated the idea one weekend, as he volunteered to man a booth for a local farmer’s market in Bloomington, Ind. He noticed a couple of Amish farmers, who were selling seedlings and starter plants, but had few customers, despite the bustling crowd in the marketplace. Read More

Startup Seeks to Use Open Source Monitoring Tech to Improve Efficiency on Small-Scale Farms

February 19, 2013 |

Photo Credit: HarvestGeek.

Growing shiitake oyster mushrooms for Michael Alt’s family’s restaurant proved to be a tricky operation in snowfall manic Syracuse, NY. Maintaining ideal conditions required a complicated set-up of seemingly endless triggers, humidifiers, fans, dehumidifiers and miscellaneous controls. At his day job, Alt was making radar technology for the US Department of Defense as a software engineer – stuff like forward facing detector installations for Afghanistan bases. It seemed far from related to his mushroom cultivating hobby, but then one of his hardware tech co-workers came in with something that had the potential to change everything for Alt’s growing operation.

It was a remote weather monitor and door controller for the guy’s chicken coop, set up through a short wave radio. This was a few years back when Alt didn’t know that something like that was even possible to rig up. Read More

With 90% of its Crop Pre-sold and a Land Lease Rate of $1 Per Year, a Vertical Farm Rises in Wyoming

January 16, 2013 |

If you’ve ever ventured west into the beautiful rolling hills and breathtaking rock formations of windy Wyoming you may note an absence of green fields. Home of wandering elk herds, wild mustangs and ubiquitous antelope, Wyoming boasts the freshest air and streams in the nation. Fertile soil is another thing entirely. That’s why the ‘outside of the box’ thinking of the folks at Vertical Harvest, a three story vertical hydroponic greenhouse operation that will be located in the town of Jackson, means so much to the equality state. Read More

An Examination of Fundraising Options for Early Stage Sustainable Agriculture Startups

September 19, 2012 |

As entrepreneurs, one of our early challenges is finding funding faster than we’re burning through our savings; it’s a choke point that’s so common that it’s referred to as “the Valley of Death”. This realization often comes at the worst possible time – when you’re equally busy trying to figure out packaging, and which regulations you need to meet, and then you realize that you’re going to need more cash to make it all happen. “I need to find the path that leads to funding fastest,” concluded one sustainable agriculture entrepreneur.

Two obvious paths to funding for young startups are through Department of Agriculture (USDA) grants, especially the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, and via Kickstarter, the crowdfunded donation site. Read More

Five Keys to Finding Success on Kickstarter for Sustainable Food Entrepreneurs

September 17, 2012 |

Over its three year life span, Kickstarter, a crowdfunded donation site, has become quite the boon for sustainable agriculture entrepreneurs, raising $9.1 million in funding for 846 food projects[1]. Indeed, many of the startups profiled here at Seedstock, such as Freight Farms, Cloud 9 Rooftop Farm, and Bitponics are Kickstarter graduates.

Until recently, there wasn’t a great deal of data to tell us what works when putting together a Kickstarter campaign. The company has been criticized for not publishing the success rates of projects, and a number of blogs made valiant efforts to calculate these in the absence of official numbers. In June, Kickstarter began tracking statistics, and this, along with the increasing maturity of the site, has led to a plethora of advice to would-be fundraisers. Read More