7 Essential Vertical Farming Beginner Tips with Eric Amyot of ModularFarms.co [interview[ < Back to Urban Vine Co Blog Homepage

7 Essential Vertical Farming Beginner Tips with Eric Amyot of ModularFarms.co [interview]

Patrick from Urbanvine.co recently caught up with Eric Amyot, CEO and co-founder of Modularfarms.co, a start-up company developing new cutting edge solutions for commercial urban farmers.

Topics we discussed included: 

- unit economics of an urban farm
- what you absolutely must do before selling any produce
- lighting for profitable urban farming
- the types of crops to consider when generating an ROI

and much more!

Interview Below: 

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Skip to:
About Modular Farms
I. Early Vertical Farming Mistakes
II. The core components of "controlled atmosphere" in vertical farming
III. Breaking down lighting for indoor urban agriculture (and more)
IV: Difference between T5 and T8 lights + indoor lighting safety tips
V: Picking your first crop to grow as an urban farming beginner
VI: Understanding the market for produce from micro-urban farms
VII: How to sell produce from your urban farm
VIII: Rapid Fire Questions and Final Advice for urban farming beginners

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Urban Vine Co: Hey guys, this is Patrick from urbanvine.co and today we’re talking with Eric Amyot from modularfarms.co. 

We’ll put the URL up at the end and today, we’re going to be talking about vertical farming and especially some of the entrepreneurial aspects of it, the unit economics of it, if you will, Eric how we doing today?

Eric: Doing great, thanks pat.

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About Modularfarms.co

Urban Vine Co: Great, If you could start off with, if people aren’t really familiar with you guys, if they don’t know anything about the company, obviously you can tell a little bit
from the name, but maybe if you could share some of the backstory, and maybe a funny story or a detail that a lot of people don’t know about from the beginning of the company.

Eric: Funny stories, I’ve got lots of those! So Modular farms is what you might think by
the sounds of it, we design, build, and sell and support modular containerized farming systems, currently on the North American market but we are moving to out into the global market at the end of January 2017 so coming up very soon.

Containerized farming systems really translates into any system nowadays that is controlled environment, so it could be a controlled environment greenhouse, it could be a
warehouse, in our instance, a modular farm is about the size of a shipping container.

It’s where we got our start, (which) is in shipping container farms, we used them until about 4 months ago actually and sold the farms that we did have up and running and have converted entirely over to our technology.

The reason why we’ve done any of this to begin with is while the containerized or shipping container farms worked fairly well and got us a good start, there were a lot of important changes that needed to occur, advances, in (both) processes, and technologies, in order for us to make a very consistently viable business solution for farmers.

modular farms urban farming kale
Modularfarms.co producing Kale Source

Urban Vine Co: So how did you get your start? 

Eric: So we got our start as brand new urban farmers about two and half years ago with no prior experience. My co-founder Eric Bergeron and I had varying degrees of success in
entrepreneurial endeavors, Eric Bergeron was a web-coder, an SEO expert, an award-winning entrepreneur for his entire adult life and was getting very tired of sitting behind a desk all day and doing nothing but coding.

That’s what led him towards a conversation with me, about doing something different, and I was working in retail management consulting, and I’m an arborist by trade, so I had a tree-service company as well, so a couple businesses running at the same time.

I was getting physically and mentally tired of what I was doing, for such a long period of time and wanted a change, a legacy to lead for the next generation. So urban agriculture just kind of happened upon us accidentally, by doing some web searching, and knowing other people.

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I. Early Mistakes in Urban Vertical Farming

Urban Vine  Co: Any interesting stories? 

Eric: I didn’t say anything funny yet so I guess I should say something funny, so what I will
tell you is that I was being very literal when I said that we had no prior experience so we kind of jumped into it with both feet, or head first, as you will.

On more than  one occasion we learned the very hard way that while the technologies on the market then, but still now today claim and feature full turn-key solutions, we even use that terminology as well (at Modularfarms.co), in some of our marketing materials, the reality is that you still need to have a good foundation of, at least motivation, ambition, tenacity, and most importantly, a good support team behind you, when you get started in this industry, especially if you have no experience.

We killed our entire crops on more than one occasion when we got started, which is funny, looking back on it now, because we did some silly things, like inviting entire school busses of kids into our farm  when the crops were up and running,  and then wondering where all the bugs came from, 

Urban Vine Co: They came from the kids, or?

Eric: Well, I don’t want to say kids have bugs, necessarily, that’s not the message that I’m
trying to relay here, but yeah when you have 30 or 40 people come through your farm in a given day, then all the sudden you have red spider mite, it’s come from somebody of course, they (mites) don’t just kind of walk in off the street, the bugs that is, came in on somebodies pant leg or jacket or whatever the case was, could have been one of us as well but, just things like that.

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II. The core components of "controlled atmosphere" in vertical farming

Urban Vine Co: So obviously our site is focused on helping urban farming beginners, so kind of just like where you guys were in the very beginning so, people who are  just getting started, maybe they’re tired of corporate life,

I’ve talked to a lot of people who are in that situation or, they just kind of want to start a new project even it could be that simple, can you talk about, you kind of mentioned controlled atmosphere: what does that mean?

Because I think that term gets thrown around and a lot of people , they see it in articles or online or on Twitter or something and  they don’t really know exactly what that means,  so what does the basic (controlled atmosphere system) look like, if you were going to boil it down into its essential components?

A controlled atmosphere has 3 core components. One of which is lighting. Source

Eric: Sure so essential components, so first of all the right answer to your question is that
the typical system will look like a lot of different things depending on what you’re engaging with, what technology and what practices.

A typical system that’s well thought out and is designed for the most chance of success or the greatest chance of success will have a pillar of three things:

(1) The first one will be expert lighting. I can’t stress enough how much we’ve seen increases in crop productivity and the proper checks and balances in place for plant transpiration, canopy saturation of light, etc.

So having really good lights in a system really makes a big difference, if you’re looking at having the most yield possible. So, good quality lights (is the first pillar).

(2) The next one will be controlled environment or controlled atmosphere as you mentioned, so, from our perspective, a controlled environment really means a controlled environment, there are a lot of systems on the market that say that they utilize controlled environment agricultural practices or controlled atmospheres, but really they’ll only control portions of it, what they can control or understand or how to control.

In our instance, a controlled environment is one that controls all ambient or external influences, so, literally cutting off the outside world, so everything from water, to airflow, and the actual air itself is recirculated within the system.  What that really permits for us is to have a constant, or consistent environment for the plants to grow up in.

So an example would be today I’m just sitting on the east side of Toronto right now, in Ontario, it’s not too cold today but it has been very recently, about -20 degrees Celsius, so really cold, and if we were using a containerized farming system or a shipping container farm, or even a modular farm that was using external air pulled into the system, it would be pulling that cold dry air, depending on the day, into the  farm, which means the system always  has to fluctuate, ebb and flow a lot, which means increased cost for electricity as the system cycles through heat and cold, dehumidification, etc. but blocking the outside air means the farm is always a consistent 72 degrees or 74 degrees Fahrenheit in our instance. So controlled environment is very important, keeping out bugs, keeping the air temperature and the humidity exactly what they (the plants) need.

(3) The next one will be workspace, so people will take this for granted a lot, especially in some of the tighter, condensed growing environments like shipping container farms, some of them are very well thought out, some of them try to pack too much stuff into very little space thinking that if you can just squeeze in an extra 500 plants it’ll make a difference, all the difference in the world but the reality is, you get too tight in that space it restricts the airflow, it restricts proper dehumidification, it can cause mold and mildew issues. You can’t really put in a high intensity lighting system if the plants are too close to the lights because it’ll burn the plants, there are a lot of advantages of having that extra bit of space. Space is king for sure, in tight growing spaces, so, again, adequate space for the plants to grow, and for the environment to be treated properly, a controlled environment to begin with, and really good lights.

I would say (those) are the 3 pillars to good indoor agriculture.

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III. Breaking down lighting for indoor urban farming (and more)

Urban Vine Co:  So, a couple follow up  questions on that: regarding the lighting, for somebody who’s just starting out obviously you have your fundamental types of lighting so you have your LED, fluorescent, probably the beginners aren’t going to be messing around to much with the High Pressure Sodium lighting as much, what would you suggest as far as those options go for a beginner?

And then, my follow up question to that is, when you’re talking about a controlled environment kind of like you said, isolating the entire surrounding environment, how does that translate to a very beginner project where you may not have the capital to invest in this very expensive system, and maybe you just want to grow some basil and get an LED light and just see how that goes before you get into a big modular farm type system, so how do you reconcile those needs with the urban farming beginner?

Eric: Sure so I think there’s a clear distinction to be made and you just brought that up there’s a difference between somebody who wants to get their feet wet, so to speak,  in urban agriculture, and that’s how I got started, I started tinkering, before we got our first shipping container farm, I bought a  seedlings tray and a cheap LED light from Home Depot, and gave it a try. So there’s a distinction to be made between somebody who wants to experience urban agriculture or just growing  indoors, which could be in the living room or in the basement, versus somebody who wants to grow commercially, so if you’re  starting on a small scale and just want to try it out, the reality is that the best solution is going to be the solution that’s within your budget, otherwise you’re not going to get started at all, so starting with a nice inexpensive T5 fluorescent light or T8 fluorescent light, I mean even if it’s something sitting in your shop, garage, or basement that you haven’t used for a while, it will still be a source of light for plants.

It might not be the best source of light for plants but it’s a source of light for plants. Same thing with scale, you don’t need to grow four thousand or five thousand plants at once, if it’s a trial and you just want to feed your family a little bit and experience maybe with ebb and flow or drip irrigation, it’s all about budget, so when we talk about enclosed environment or controlled atmosphere agriculture, the reality is that provides the optimal  environment for the plant, so it allows us to control the relative humidity, air flow etc, the matter of the fact is that plants will grow in almost any environment, most of them are hearty enough, like kale, for example, mint, those things will grow in the cracks of a sidewalk , given  the right conditions.

So you don’t really need to really have high intensity LED lighting with the right spectrum , you don’t need high pressure sodium lights to grow kale and mint, for the first time, the reality is that it can be a joy and provide lots of health and benefits to your family if you just start on a very small scale  with a very small budget, my advice is to just, get started.

Some considerations will be the expected outcomes too, are really important to discuss. Some people say, man look at all these videos online with these big plant factories or the big rooftop farms, or modular farms for example, and they grow these huge heads of lettuce and this fantastic abundance of kale,

Urban Vine  Co: and it looks great!

Eric: And it looks great, but then everyone’s at home at my dining room table, or in the basement in the corner, and I’m getting different effects, we’re getting kale that’s a little spindly, heads of lettuce, don’t look like they do in the grocery store. So as long as you have the right expectations starting out, and you know if you’re using a fluorescent instead of an LED or HPS, high pressure sodium light, that you’re going to get some
apples to oranges comparison of the experience, then you won’t be disappointed.

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IV: Difference between T5 and T8 lights + indoor lighting safety tips

Urban Vine Co: So, here’s another question, a lot of the people that  I talk to are confused about some of the lighting terminology, so could you talk about just really quickly, what you mean by T5 and T8 and I think some people get confused by that, and when people are confused when they are starting to do something, that makes it harder to start
it, that’s something that I’ve seen, so could you explain that or clarify that really quickly?

Eric: Yeah Sure, so just to keep it as simple as possible when we’re referring to T5 and T8
we’re referring to the gauge and diameter of the fluorescent tube, primarily, without getting into all the tech specs about it, so a T8, would be what you would typically see in your office, or in your classroom, up above in the ceiling, that’s the standard diameter, typically a 4 foot length fluorescent light tube.

T5 is essentially the same thing except smaller, typically the length is much smaller, or it can be smaller, as small as a foot or two feet, and the diameter is smaller, which of course effects the output potentially, etc, but we’re referring to fluorescent lights when we talk about T5 and T8, and then of course LED’s and high pressure sodiums.

The one recommendation that wealways have when we’re talking about fluorescent vs LED, regardless of the quality of either of those lights, is to consider pets and children around those lighting solutions as well, so in classrooms for example, or at home if you have little ones running around, especially those that are just at the age where they like to grab things and test things out on their own, there are a lot of inherent benefits of LED lights in growing food of course, but there’s also a safety measure too, an LED light is much more difficult to break, depending on the design of it, but most of them are fairly durable, rugged, and can be knocked over, and picked back up and plugged back in, a T5 or T8 fluorescent light, most of them if not all of them have a mercury component in the light
and are considered hazardous materials if they break, so that’s certainly a consideration we make to all of our school clients, is to always consider an LED investment, because it can be a little bit more expensive, actually in most cases about twice as expensive as a fluorescent solution, but it’s worth it for safety reasons.

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V: Picking your first crop to grow as an urban farming beginner

Urban Vine Co: And you mentioned kale and mint, the ability for them to grow on a sidewalk, would you suggest kale and mint for somebody to start off with or would you
suggest something else and why would you suggest those?

Eric: I would actually suggest that somebody grow whatever they want to grow, there’s no point in growing mint if you can’t stand it, because you’re not going to eat it and you’re not going to enjoy it, so that might deter you from proceeding, if you’re talking about simplicity, there’s a wealth of resources on the internet, I can’t even begin to scratch the surface of how much help there is on YouTube, obviously via Urban Vine, a lot of the collaborators and colleagues we participate in the industry with, there’s a lot of information out there, not only to help people decide what to grow but how to grow that crop.

But I would say the most important thing is to be realistic, and those two matters or two principals:

(1) one is grow something that you think you’ll enjoy eating, even if you’re head of lettuce isn’t huge like it is at the grocery store, or from a commercial hydroponic or aquaponic farm, the reality is that you’ll actually enjoy eating that romaine lettuce, even if it’s a little scraggly looking and the head is only half formed, at least you’ll be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor. 

(2) And the other one is the footprint of the plant as well, and the growth cycle, so, as an example, as a vegan, I eat a lot of quinoa, but I wouldn’t grow quinoa in my basement in a hydroponic set up, because the lifecycle and the footprint of the plant just don’t make sense.

Just like corn too, you might say, well “man I’d really love myself a good cob of corn”, but growing corn in a seedling tray in your basement is not going to be the best idea, so be realistic about the lifecycle and the harvest cycle of the plant, and the physical size of the plant when it grows up.

Another good example would iceberg lettuce as well, a lot of us as North Americans consume iceberg lettuce, it’s not a bad thing, at least we’re eating some veggies, but the reality is that growing iceberg lettuce hydroponically is not the most effective plant, especially for beginners, the plant has a longer life cycle than a loose leaf lettuce like oak leaf or salad bowl or butter crunch or something or something of that nature, but the physical size of the plant if it was to grow properly is much larger, takes longer to harvest, so I think those would be the two considerations.

Urban Vine Co: So the two considerations are: the size of the plant and the life cycle, to clarify?

Eric: So those would be one and the same, so the type of plant you’re going to grow, make sure that it’s practical for you to grow, the other one is just grow something that you actually think you’re going to enjoy.

It’s a good experience, right, it’s meant to be a challenge a little bit, it’s also meant to be rewarding, so a good example at home, I have a farmwall, actually just sitting across from me here I’m staring at it, and we’ve previously grown cucumber and tomato on the farmwall, because I wanted to see what it was like to grow it at home, the results were mixed because it was growing in my living room and on the floor and stuff, so it was a little bit of a challenge, but we actually got cucumber out of the cucumber plants and I got to chop them up on my counter, with that example, I wouldn’t recommend cucumber, as a start, fruiting plants, actually that’s another good point, fruiting plants are going to be a little more difficult as well, so strawberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, anything that develops a flower before it turns into a fruit or vegetable, is going to be more challenging.

Urban Vine Co: And just so people know the reason fruiting plants are so difficult is because it has to do with the pollination, or it’s more complicated than that?

Eric: Well that would be the big thing so, some varieties are self-pollinating, so we don’t need to worry about it so much, just air movement in the house, the dog walking by
and wagging its tail is enough to pollinate some species  of flowering plants, but you’d have to pick the specific breed or cultivar of plant to make sure you’re getting something
that is self-pollinating, and most self-pollinating plants, or flowering fruit plants, will also mean that they’re going to be vine or creeping plants, which are going to be cumbersome to handle in a small system at home too, again, perfect example, the cucumber did fairly well in our farmwall, the vertical towers that  I have in my living room, but the vines were literally growing across the floor, and wrapping around the lights and things like that,  and things were difficult, so there’s a variety of reasons to not try fruiting plants at first, it will be less rewarding, almost assured, than it would be to just grow a simple head of lettuce or herb, or brassica of some sort.

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VI: The market for food from micro-urban farms

Urban Vine Co: So one final topic I wanted to touch on, and this is something you guys are obviously working on at Modular Farms, dealing with, and this is something I get approached a lot from people in our community, is the aspect of entrepreneurship and urban farming so, maybe you start with a brasica or something simple and then you iterate on that and have some success, then you say, “ok, maybe I’m gonna make this a little bigger of an operation, maybe I’ll move from fluorescent to LED, maybe make that extra investment, and start seeing if I could sell this to a local restaurant or something like that”,

And then maybe you want to take it to the next level and see if you want to get a modular farm system, how do you look at the unit economics of urban farming and how do yousee the future of that?

Do you think there’s a space in the market for micro-urban farmers or do you think it’s more like the big big, like you were talking about before, beautiful lettuces and mixed greens on the website that just look amazing, how do you think the David and Goliath kind of balance there?

Eric: So, there’s a lot of answers to that question, and a fairly loaded question, but really
important one too, so, I think that technologies are starting to provide answers to those questions at this point, the cost of LED lights, the cost of technology in general, the accessibility, so the advent of IOT the internet of things, and the ability to connect remotely with our devices and therefore our farms, to be able to monitor and remotely control aspects of those farming operations, small and large, are really helping  with accessibility, so again the cost and connectivity of those technologies is really helping out, but there’s room for everybody  to be honest with you.

We at Modular Farms actually operate a family of businesses, to meet all of those demands, I don’t want to talk too much about that, that’s not the answer to the question you’re looking for, but we recognize the fact that while a very large commercial operation, like a warehouse farm, let’s say, 20,000 square feet in size, will obviously feed a larger community, the reality is that you can now get an awful lot of food out of  a small containerized farm, or even a garage or basement f arm if it’s done properly and operated safely, to feed portions of a community, so the return on investment is now really related to the farming practices and the motivation.

So we don’t discourage anyone to get started at a hobby level for sure, but if we’re talking about transitioning from hobby to commercial, generating revenue and an ROI, it seems that most systems, if properly thought out, and that would include a look at the market the system is being  deployed in as well, should provide an ROI in 3-5 years, which is within the expected range for new business startups, for successful business startups, so people shouldn’t expect to have an ROI in year 1, if someone is promising you that then be cautious of course, we’re  seeing 3-5 years on average for the systems that we generate, sometimes it can be less if the crop that you’re growing is  serving a
particular market and has a very high value,

Urban Vine Co: What would be an example of that?

Eric: What would be an example of that? So medicinal herbs, and I’m not referring to cannabis, I’m referring to more traditional Chinese medicines are not being explored in urban farms as well, an example from my perspective would be a niche client looking
for a niche product all for themselves, so it could be as simple as kale, kale can generate a really good return in the right system, if you have a client  that is willing to pay for it, a good example would be a client, a smoothie shop, and this is a real experience that I had about a year ago, I approached one of Canada’s larger franchises,  smoothie franchises and introduced our product and our prices, they absolutely loved the product, but made it very clear that their core message was not, non GMO, local, organic, it was just cheap smoothies for the masses, so they had no interest, but their competitor, one of their competitors, was willing to pay the high value that they were seeking, because their core brand was, local, non-GMO, organic, sustainable, and they got it, it was marketing partnership for them, in essence, where the story was easy to tell and their customers were seeking those solutions at that brand and that banner.

So if you’re addressing the market properly and you’re starting on a small scale, as small as 200 or 400 square feet in a containerized f arming system or even in your, I don’t want to say home because I don’t people to think that they can just grow a commercial outfit out of their home, you can but it requires a lot of consideration for zoning and health and safety etc, but the opportunity to receive an ROI within 3 years is certainly realistic, at this point, I feel like there’s about 20 other things to answer about that question but maybe I’ll have you re-address if that’s ok so that we can get back on track?

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VII: How to sell the produce from your urban farm

Urban Vine Co: Sure so to follow up on  that, getting into  the x’s and o’s, I think at first it’s helpful to get a look at the big picture, like you just discussed, I know a lot of people are curious about, how much do I sell my, you know if I cold call the restaurant down the street and they’re interested in my kale, you know, how much do I sell that for, is there a negotiation, how does that work?

Could you shed some light on that process because I think a lot of people want to get their feet wet like you said, and then after they’ve had some success with that they want to invest however much it’s going to cost them for a big system that is a 3-5 year ROI.

Eric: Yeah, that’s a touchy subject in the sense that it really depends on the market and
the story as well, so we recommend to all of our clients that we take a look the market before an investment is made.

So before somebody buys a Modular Farm, whether they’re engaging our food brand marketing to assist in their market study or they’re going to do it on their own, we always insist that the customer take a look at their market first.

It’s one thing to  say that the technology looks available and the ROI seems ok on the surface or on paper, the reality is that if you’re in a market that has no demand for what
you’ll supply, you can have the best technology and products in the world and it just won’t fetch that value you need to have to have that ROI, so going into your market is obviously imperative, in determining what your value is.

One thing I would caution people upon is a lot of people like to do arm-chair research, I do most of my research sitting at my desk, seeing what’s in the market, seeing what’s happening, but until you actually get out there and learn the market a little bit, and that doesn’t mean months and months of research it just means going to the farmer’s
market, going to the grocery store, and picking up that bunch of parsley or that head of lettuce and seeing what the cost  is, or not the cost, but the retail value of that food, talking to the grocery manager if possible and asking them what type of volume they require, if they have any pains or issues with the food that they grow.

And it’s those types of conversations out in the field and on the ground that really make a big difference, because we can’t just assume.

We have a lot of arm chair researchers, this isn’t to pigeonhole somebody as a type of person, again, we do it as well, but it can’t just be just research from our chair, a lot of people will a lot of fantastic research for months and months before they pick up the phone to call us to place an order or get to the point of placing an order,  and they’ll refer to USDA websites and in Canada there are several provincial and federal websites that will offer recommended food values, so the commodity value of corn, or lettuce, or kale, or whatever the case, but those are typically based on import/export prices, and not  locally grown, organic, non-GMO, sustainable food, so a lot of people will call and say,

“Look I’ve been thinking about buying a modular farm”, as an example, “but based on the price of the modular farm and the operating cost of the modular farm, I can only get 25 cents for my head of lettuce, I’m never gonna make any money. “

The reality is that is a set price based on the ebbs and flows of the international market and the national market, but not always reflective of your local market, so make sure you get out there and talk to the people who you would intend to buy your food.

I also want to make sure that people are considering CSA models as well, so community supported agriculture, or direct to consumer, farm to plate, however you’d like to refer to it, is probably one of the most powerful models for people selling their food, no matter, whichever scale, so whether you have a 100 square foot system in your basement or garage, or a thousand square foot farm in a warehouse or a couple modular farms, selling
direct to consumer whenever possible is going to net the highest yields and revenues for you and exclude the middle man.

It will also be more rewarding in that you will see the immediate effects on your community. Instead of just shipping your food off to warehouse to be sorted and sent to a grocery store, you’ll actually be able to interact with your customer and be that “local food hero”. 

So there are a lot of opportunities for good ROIs in almost any market, as long as you’re doing you’re market research first, and don’t discount thinking outside the box, a lot of crops, that are typical crops like lettuce and herbs, may not have room in your market because you live a couple miles away from a large (urban) farm which produces these things most of the year anyway.

But there are lot of other things that are really hot on the market right now, such as edible flowers, edible orchids is an example of a huge value that actually rivals cannabis believe it or not, and it’s a crop that can be grown, it takes a little more dedication and education than just growing a head of lettuce, nonetheless, it’s an example of things (that may
generate ROI).

Imported crops are also really big too because we can control the atmosphere and the environment in most indoor applications, if it’s done properly, and it can be done on a budget by the way, so, let me touch on that for just a second, we talked about controlled atmosphere and environments and a modular farm and big commercial application, the reality is that if you have access to a small dehumidifier, a small air conditioner, even  if it’s portable units, and you want to get started in your garage.

As long as you don’t have that door open all the time and the hot or the cold air coming in, and you keep the space closed, you can still wrap a simple timber frame and poly or plastic film, a wrap, around a growing space and use small tools to try and experiment with controlled environments, there are a lot of inexpensive DIY hacks out there that allow people to just try to control their environments a little bit, you don’t need a 200,000 dollar or half a million dollar investment to play with controlled environment.

So, controlled environment allows us to work with import product as well, like iceplant is a good example, a lot of people don’t really know what iceplant is, it resembles a jade plant, a little bit, a succulent, and it’s really hot on the Asian market right now, but as we know, North America is not just comprised of people from North America, there are a lot of people Asian palettes as well, including North Americans, so, iceplant has a good market in a lot of places in North America,  but most people don’t even know that it exists.

So those types of plants, those type of crops, thinking outside the box, going to your grocery store, going  to your neighbors, whoever you’re going to be selling your food to, who you’d like to sell your food to, just chat with them, ask them what they wish they could have, and see if you can grow it.

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Rapid Fire Questions and Final Advice for Beginners

Urban Vine Co: Awesome, so I think we’ll do a couple rapid fire questions and then I think we’ll call it, so the first one I have is, what’s your favorite fruit or vegetable?  

Eric: What’s my favorite fruit or vegetable?

Urban Vine Co: If you had to pick one…

Eric: Oh man, that’s tough, if I had to pick one fruit or vegetable, it might be… cucumber.

Urban Vine Co: Cucumber?

Eric: Yep.

Urban Vine Co: What’s a company in the urban agriculture industry that you’re following and you think is going to be huge and maybe people don’t know about them just yet?

Eric: Can I name one of my own?

Urban Vine Co: You can name one of your own but we want to get another one too.

Eric: Alright so, I’m going to name Smart Greens, one of our sister companies, where we actually got started, before we spun out Modular Farms, or the tech company, out of Smart Greens, Smart Greens is our food distribution brand, it’s the distribution model that I’m most fond of, that we’ve created, because it eliminates food waste at the grocery store and consumer level, and helps bring local food to the masses.

So Smart Greens is one that a lot of people may not know of, if they’re following tech, and not food distribution and local food, as far as outside of us, honestly I think it would probably be, and I’m not going to name anyone in particular but I’m very keen on following the permaculture tech companies, so those permaculture people who are converting monoculture crop space, acres and acres of land, into fruit and nut orchards, into herb and mushroom farms, basically taking what was a 4th or 5th generational farm that grew just soy and corn for the last 50 years and changing it into something beautiful and sustainable and permaculture, and then tying technology to it, for soil assessment, for drone aerial surveys, I think permaculture and tech are one of the coolest things happening right now, not at all what I’m doing, but I’m a fan of good sustainable food wherever it’s coming from so those are one of my biggest interests.

Urban Vine Co: What’s your favorite book, website, or resource that you learned a lot from and that you think other people should check out if they are just starting?

Eric:  Sure, so for general information on agriculture, and agricultural technology or ag-tech I would say Hortidaily (http://www.hortidaily.com/) newsletter is probably one of the most valuable ones that my entire team uses, just to keep in the know of what’s going on in the world of agriculture, it encompasses everything from aquaponics and aquaculture to large scale greenhouses, stacked Japanese plant factories… you name it, if it’s agricultural related Hortidaily is a good resource.

Other than that I can’t help but mention another one our colleagues and partners Bright Agrotech’s upstart university, for somebody  who has zero experience who wants to become an immediate member of an empowered and knowledged community, of both brand new upstart farmers, so people who are just, just getting started, but tied and communicating  with experienced farmers from around the world, Upstart University through Bright Agrotech is probably one of the greatest resources that I would recommend, it also encompasses not just zip-grow towers which we use as the core of most our solutions and bright aggrotech does but anything to do with agriculture and getting started, it’s also part of a curriculum based program that people can take for little to no money per month, I think it’s about 9$ per month I believe if not less

Urban Vine Co: I think it’s about that.

Eric: anyway, it’s a fantastic resource.

Urban Vine Co: and so the last question  is, if somebody is, just like me and you right now, just sitting around and they want to start with an urban  farming anything, even the most simple thing, right now, what do you think is the  simple most easy thing they need to do to get started? What is the first thing they need to do?

Eric: Two things, one is again become a part of the conversation, wherever you’re going to  find that conversation, so,  whether it’s a local educational group, there’s a lot of soil activists in every community doing raised beds urban farming,  just adapting to some system, it doesn’t matter.

I don’t care what it is, if you’re  building a raised planter in your back yard or front yard and growing strawberries and tomatoes in that thing or planting lettuce or left over potato scraps in their to grow your own spuds, just do it, get off your butt, stop looking at the internet  stop reading magazines and do something.

If you want to bring stuff indoors, an inexpensive DIY kit, you can find millions of resources on YouTube and on the internet by building your own  small ebb and flow or NFT (nutrient film technique) system, that’d be a horizontal stack system, you can build those things for peanuts and usually get parts at hardware stores and gardening centers, of course, in Canada, we sell the farm walls, which are fairly inexpensive to bring our gardening indoors, with drip irrigation and zip grow towers, but honestly there’s a budget for everybody, whether it be a hundred bucks or a thousand bucks, just get up, and go do it!

Urban Vine Co: If somebody has a little more experience or they want to learn about Modular Farms, they want to learn more about your products, where do they go and what do they do?  

Eric: So right now I would say contact us via our website at modularfarms.co and somebody from our team will be back in touch right away, we have a sign up web form, and typically within a couple hours someone will reach out and provide you with
more information regarding our product ranges and our services.

 I would also suggest checking  out our e-commerce site at zipgrow.ca, it’s a new site but we will be adding a lot more resources to that site in January, so coming up in the next 30 days or so, but it’s a spot now to buy…from seedling trays and seedling plugs to nutrients and  LED lights, etc, and of course, Smart Greens, our third and last company, Smartgreens.co, is about to re-launch itself with the Smart Greens Network, which is a network of connected farmers across North America who will be using all forms of technology to grow food.

Urbanvine Co: Thanks Eric!

Eric: My Pleasure, take care!

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