This article was originally published on ensia.com.
Researchers around the world are working to improve plants’ ability to combat climate change.
Many strategies aimed at mitigating global warming involve huge shifts in human behavior: stop burning coal for electricity, stop driving gas-powered cars, stop destroying rainforests. These are all necessary — and all involve complex political, cultural and socio-economic hurdles for humans. But what if we could also change the behavior of a far more pliant group of organisms, those that consumethe carbon dioxide we emit? It’s a demand-side approach to reducing the threat of climate change, and lately it’s been gaining some extra research steam: capturing and storing that excess carbon by boosting the capacity of nature’s own carbon-storing technology, plants.
The American urban farm comes in many guises but come it does. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 800 million people worldwide practice urban agriculture. That accounts for between 15 to 20 percent of the world’s food supply. As urban ag continues to build momentum across all 50 states, the influence and scope of the urban farm is growing. Most of us think of less than a couple of acres when we think urban farm, yet urban farms are getting bigger. And some are getting really big.
In 2016, at the height of the California drought, Julian Cantando and Clayton Garland envisioned a more sustainable farming model than traditional soil-based agriculture, which has always thrived in California.
“Last year was the seventh year of the drought, the lake was down, and the threat of not having water was real, at least for other farmers who aren’t on a well. It was kind of a bleak situation,” Cantando says.
He and Garland were classmates in the Horticulture Program at Santa Barbara City College and often discussed going into business together.
Access to sufficient appropriate capital remains one of the greatest keys to success for indoor agriculture entrepreneurs. In a survey conducted of indoor agriculture industry participants, Newbean Capital found that 53% of respondents stated their biggest business challenge was finding enough funding to operate or expand their farm. In addition, 74% of respondents were currently seeking external capital for their farm.
When discussing funding options for expansion, it is important to make the distinction between debt-based funding and equity-based funding. Debt-based funding is a loan. You either pay it back in installments, or when the loan comes due. Equity funding, on the other hand, is funding that gives investors shares in your company. Typically, with equity funding, an investor does not expect repayment until the business is sold or another investor buys their stake in the business.
The allure of container farming has introduced many new farmers to indoor agriculture. Their portability and low fixed costs have expanded the possibilities for grow sites for many people. Based on discussions with industry players, we estimate that there are between 250 and 300 branded container farms in the world, with likely as many “homegrown” operations in existence.
This growing practice has not only captured the imagination of the media, but it has also attracted entrepreneurs and investors. A container farm’s size, cost and ability to grow in extreme temperatures have made it a great indoor farming option. Here are their five top advantages: