Tag Archives: Eat Local

Robot Hands, Vertical Farms, and the Future of Food

On Saturday, I stood in the produce section of a nearby Whole Foods. My eyes were drawn to tiny packages of delicate microgreens. The producer: Aero Farms.

Agriculture faces a difficult environment. Climate change is making weather more extreme and unpredictable. Workers are harder and harder to find. But a new model of farming is emerging, and it looks like nothing else we’ve ever seen.

Aero Farms grows greens in vertical stacks in what was once an abandoned steel mill. The farm is in gritty Newark, NJ, just a few miles from the Whole Foods where I encountered their product. They use 95% less water and 99% less land than a traditional farm. And unlike other farms, they can grow year round.

Technology is also revolutionizing how produce is picked. A company called Root AI makes soft, robotic hands that can pick anything from a hearty cucumber to a fragile strawberry. Alongside the robotic hands is a camera enabled with AI, which can identify the ripe produce and leave the rest to grow.  

Seeing it in action feels like seeing the future:

These robots are now being put to use in giant warehouse farms that you could easily mistake for an Amazon Fulfillment Center. These are a project of AppHarvest, which claims they use 90% less water and are 30 times more productive per acre than a traditional farm.

Is that an Amazon Fulfillment Center in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?

Even if the company’s projections are a bit optimistic, there’s strong evidence from numerous producers that indoor farming uses dramatically less water and space. And with the farm just a few miles from its customers in major cities, transportation costs and emissions are cut to the bone.

Putting robotics and indoor farming together, I think we are headed to a future that produces more output (food) with far fewer inputs (labor, water, land). And unlike human labor, electronics tend to rapidly decrease in price. That will only speed their adoption and lower food prices further. 

To quote Lincoln Steffens:

“I have seen the future and it works.”

More on tech:




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