An indoor farming startup backed by some of the biggest names in tech that wants to revolutionize how people eat fruits and vegetables has arrived in Seattle.
Plenty today announced that it will open a 100,000 square-foot farm in Kent, Wash., where the 3-year-old company will grow pesticide-free, “backyard quality” produce for consumers in Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. It’s the first time the startup has expanded beyond its home markets in South San Francisco and Wyoming; it will also be the company’s first “full-scale” farm.
Plenty grows its plants in 20-foot tall towers inside a climate-controlled facility with LED lights. It does not use pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, or GMOs. There is plenty of technology used, with thousands of infrared cameras and sensors collecting data in the farms that is then analyzed with machine learning to optimize how the plants grow.
Plenty said its technology can achieve yields of up to 350 times greater than traditional agriculture while using 1 percent of the water and barely any land compared to conventional methods. Plenty’s farms can also grow plants all year-round, regardless of seasonality changes, which helps increase efficiency; its proximity to cities also means that produce doesn’t sit in trucks for days and weeks on end before ultimately arriving on your kitchen table.
Investors are bullish about the company’s potential. Backers of Plenty’s $200 million round it raised this past July include folks like SoftBank (via its Vision Fund); Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt (through Innovation Endeavors); Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (through Bezos Expeditions); DCM Ventures; Data Collective; Finistere Ventures; and Louis Bacon.
In an interview with GeekWire, Plenty CEO and co-founder Matt Barnard said that Seattle’s lack of access to local produce and the region’s emphasis on healthy food made it a perfect place to expand.
“As we looked at the West Coast, Seattle was the best example of a large community of people who really don’t have much access to any fresh fruits and vegetables grown locally,” he explained.
Plenty will hire 50 people at the farm in Kent, and expects to double the size of its team, Barnard said. Fresh produce will start shipping to a few restaurants initially in mid-2018, and then to other buyers that will be announced at a later date.
Plenty, which has raised $238 million to date, is not the first company to try and build a business around indoor farming. Local Garden Vancouver, a similar crop-yielding greenhouse concept, declared bankruptcy a few years ago and other startups in the space have struggled over the years.
But Barnard, who started the company Nate Mazonson and Nate Storey, said that costs of indoor farming have lowered enough while the technology has advanced to the point where Plenty can promise “Whole Foods Quality at Walmart Prices,” as this Bloomberg headline noted last month.
“We give plants the perfect environment to both grow fast and taste the best,” Barnard said.
Barnard added that the percentage of fruits and vegetables eaten by U.S. consumers and grown outside of the country continues to rise due to rising labor and land costs — up to 35 percent today, from zero a few decades ago.
“This isn’t a matter of a zero sum game, and it’s not a matter of competitors,” Barnard said. “It’s a matter of, how do we meet this unmet demand and how do we add a new set of agricultural practices to our portfolio as a society to be able to address demand and these secular trends of essentially declining agricultural capacity.”