Whenever I post an article about vertical farming on the internet. People are really curious. Not necessarily about vertical farming but about why on Earth am I interested in it. And I don’t blame them. Vertical Farming isn’t really a popular tech industry like electric cars (Tesla, Rivian, etc.) or reusable rockets (SpaceX). So naturally, they want to know what lead me to be interested in this ‘undiscovered’ industry.
I find vertical farming pretty cool.The impact that this technology can have on humanity is the main reason for my obsession. All of us need to eat food to sustain. And who wouldn’t want to be part of a process that touches human lives every single day.
Life on auto-pilot
As a kid who grew up in India with good grades in school. I had two career paths to choose from. I could be either an engineer or a doctor. I knew I wasn’t the smartest kid to be able to become a doctor and all my other elder cousins had picked engineering. So I was going to be an engineer as well.
In India, there is a joke that you become an engineer first and then you decide what you want to do with your life. There are numerous examples of engineers who became top comedians, artists, photographers, and luminaries in other fields. So I was in the crowd that does their engineering but luckily for me I liked engineering.
For the first 25 years of my life. I was on autopilot. Got good grades in school, became an engineer, came to the US to get a master’s degree and got a job. Once at this step, I was a well-settled guy. So the next logical steps for me were to get married, have kids, raise them, work at the aforementioned job for the next 40 years, retire and then enjoy my life.
However, at my job, I had a few colleagues who were about my dad’s age. Very knowledgeable and full of wisdom. They treated me like one of their kids.They had worked at just one job for all of their lives. But in some conversations I’ve had with them, they mentioned that if given a choice they would not have worked at one job for their entire lives. They had lived in different times and they did what was best for their families. I loved my job. But as I started thinking about my future, I questioned myself whether I was ready to work at the same job for the rest of my life?
The best part was that I had no idea. Because I was on auto-pilot until then, I never really put real thought into what to do with my life. I had officially entered my quarter-life crisis.
So what did I do to find answers?
I started exploring the different careers that exist out there and connected to people on LinkedIn. Talked to them about their positions, what they like about their jobs, and what they don’t like. What surprised me the most was that many people had gone with the flow as well. Some of them were doing their jobs for so long that they never really cared about THE WHY.
While I was questioning my whole work identity, one thing I knew for sure. I was the happiest when I was building things, designing things, and solving problems. I knew I could do that my whole life. I knew I had to work with a company that built something because I loved the prospect of being able to make an impact through manufacturing. That part of the career equation was already solved. I had to figure out WHERE to apply my skills and knowledge.
As a kid, I remember religiously watching the show ‘How it’s Made.’ The one where we were taken behind the scenes to see how common household objects were made. Watching a potato go through a huge contraption to be transformed into chips brought me so much joy. After several conversations, I had started to lean towards working with food.
So I researched how a mechanical engineer (like me) can be a part of food production. That is when I stumbled upon the field of AgTech.The intersection of agriculture and technology. I realised that it is more than tractors and combines. From autonomous sprayers to lazer weed killers. From drone crop monitoring to robot fruit pickers. As I dug deeper, I was liking this industry. But many of these new technologies in agriculture were ‘cool’ and as days passed I realised my interest in them was fleeting. However, the one field of AgTech that really held my attention even after a few months was Vertical Farming.
What is Vertical Farming?
Vertical farming is the concept of stacking layers of farms on top of each other inside a building. Imagine an Amazon warehouse with tall shelves to the roof, each of these shelves has a bed of crops on them. LED lights provide the energy for photosynthesis of these crops. This technique grows more produce with way less water in a small space.
A vertical farm is basically a plant factory that builds crops in a controlled environment. There is a lot of automation and machines involved to make sure the best crops are grown with the least resources. I was dazzled by this futuristic approach to food production and basically fell in love with it.
Over the course of the next several months I read articles, blogs, and company news, listened to podcasts, and connected with people. Also, I wasn’t just consuming content, I was creating content as well. I wrote several blogs about my learnings.
Vertical farming still excites me a couple years later. Recently, a deal happened between Plenty and Walmart worth $400 million. I was genuinely happy with this partnership. When Bowery raised $300 millions I was super pumped. When the whole industry came together for the safety coalition or signing the vertical farming manifesto, I almost lost my mind in excitement.
I realised I had found MY industry with vertical farming.
A big part about my affinity towards vertical farming is the impact. As the population of the globe keeps increasing. We need to develop alternative solutions to grow nutritious food with less resources. Vertical farming is one such solution to this challenge.
The one thing that this journey has made me realise is that I have never known I could have an obsession in me. I was always the ‘go with a flow guy’. I was floating in the vast ocean of life, directionless, hoping that the flow of the currents would someday lead me to a shore. Now I am still in the ocean but now at least now I’m on a raft navigating in a direction where I think the shore is. So this journey of discovery of an industry that I would like to work in, led me to vertical farming.