Exclusive Interview With Tobias Peggs Of Square Roots

If you don’t already know, Square Roots is a company that seeks to usher in a new generation of farmers. Square Roots has recently made some big announcements, including opening applications for their 2nd cohort of entreprenuers and closing a $5.4 million dollar raise.

As former clients of Agritecture Consulting, we’ve been thrilled to watch Square Roots and their entrepreneurs flourish. As the 1st cohort is about to graduate, we figured now was the perfect time to check in with our Brooklyn neighborhood farm. Agritecture’s own Andrew Blume sat down with Square Roots CEO, Tobias Peggs in this podcast.

The two discuss how the 1st year went, what Square Roots learned, and what we can expect to see from the young company in 2018. Let us know what you think of the interview in the comments section!

What’s the Real Problem With Urban Agriculture: Misinformation



In this guest post, Blue Planet Consulting summer intern Ben Mickel responds to this recent article critcizing urban agriculture: What’s the REAL Problem with Urban Agriculture by Harkyo Hutri Baskoro


Before trying to answer what the problems with urban agriculture might be, lets first define what exactly urban ag is: Urban agriculture is the practice of cultivating, processing, and distributing food in or around a village, town, or city. (Bailkey, M., and J. Nasr. 2000. From Brownfields to Greenfields: Producing Food in North American Cities. Community Food SECURITY News. Fall 1999/Winter 2000:6)

This is a complex industry that exists at the intersection of Horticulture, Technology, Urban Planning and Food Security.  There is so much positive support coming from the community and an influx of capital is driving the expansion of high tech urban agriculture around the world and sometimes its difficult to know if its all just “hype” or really part of the future of cities. 

Growing Food in the Middle of the City is only Half the Story

Let’s address some of the cons Baskoro raised about Urban Ag. The first issue Baskoro addresses is whether or not it is “worth it to farm in the middle of the city” despite the fact that still most urban agriculture occurs not in the heart of most cities but in the peri-urban areas. In fact, some of the greatest opportunities for urban agriculture lie on the edge of the city where the land is cheaper but access to infrastructure and customers is still high. Lets stop thinking about urban agriculture simply as picturesque farms in the city and start determining how we can feed more of the city from nearby sustainable farms.

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NEWFARM/NEWYORK: Mixed-Use Manhattan Vertical Farm

Recently, a few friends and colleagues of partnered on this vertical farm design for an empty lot next to the highline in Chelsea, Manhattan, NYC. 

Special thanks to: 


Its time for a NEWFARM in New York. In the midst of the complexity of the concrete jungle, this urban food hub and vertical farm in Chelsea, Manhattan represents an evolution of both agriculture and architecture. One purpose of NEWFARM is to produce fresh vegetables for its inhabitants and visitors all year long. NEWFARM is also a place where buyers and sellers of food can interact with makers, artists, and growers. The vertical farming components of NEWFARM are composed of water-saving and highly productive hydroponic agriculture systems. The productivity of the farming systems compliment the artist and “maker” spaces of the building that come with the residences. Above all, NEWFARM is a bridge between nature and architecture.

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Urban Farming in Tokyo

In the center of Tokyo’s busy financial district is Pasona, a multi-national recruitment firm. When the company decided they needed a new headquarters they hired Japanese architect Yoshimi Kono to help renovate a large, 9-story building and adorn it with a lush, green wall. But the vegetation doesn’t just live on the exterior. Integrated within the building are urban farming facilities that occupy roughly 20% of the entire office space and support 200 species of fruits, vegetables and rice. Office workers take turns helping to maintain the urban farm and harvest the food, most of which ends up being served in the office cafeteria. “It is the largest and most direct farm-to-table of its kind ever realized inside an office building in Japan,” says the architect.

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Vertical ‘Pinkhouses:’ The Future Of Urban Farming?



The idea of vertical farming is all the rage right now. Architects and engineers have come up with spectacular concepts for lofty buildings that could function as urban food centers of the future.

In Sweden, for example, they’re planning a 177-foot skyscraper to farm leafy greens at the edge of each floor. But so far, most vertical gardens that are up and running actually look more like large greenhouses than city towers. And many horticulturists don’t think sky-high farms in cities are practical.

“The idea of taking a skyscraper and turning it into a vertical farming complex is absolutely ridiculous from an energy perspective,” says horticulturist Cary Mitchellof Purdue University, who’s been working on ways to grow plants in space for more than 20 years.

The future of vertical farming, Mitchell thinks, lies not in city skyscrapers, but rather in large warehouses located in the suburbs, where real estate and electricity are cheaper.

And oh, yeah, instead of being traditional greenhouses lit by fluorescent lamps, he says these plant factories will probably be “pinkhouses,” glowing magenta from the mix of blue and red LEDs.

Light is a major problem with vertical farming. When you stack plants on top of each other, the ones at the top shade the ones at the bottom. The only way to get around it is to add artificial light — which is expensive both financially and environmentally.

Vertical farmers can lower the energy bill, Mitchell says, by giving plants only the wavelengths of light they need the most: the blue and red.

“Twenty years ago, research showed that you could grow lettuce in just red light,” Mitchell says. “If you add a little bit of blue, it grows better.”

Plant’s photosynthesis machinery is tuned to absorb red and blue light most efficiently. They have a handful of other pigments in their leaves that catch other wavelengths, but the red and blue wavelengths are the big ones, supplying the majority of the light needed to grow.

So why LEDs? They’re super energy efficient in general, but unlike traditional greenhouse lamps, they can be tuned to specific wavelengths. Why use all of ROYGBIV when just RB will do?

And there’s another advantage to using LEDs in greenhouses and vertical farming, Mitchell says: Because these lights are cooler, you can place them close to the plants — even stacked plants — and lose even less energy.

Recently, Mitchell and his graduate student designed a 9-foot-tall tower of lights and grew tomato plants right up against it. “As the plants get taller, we turn on the [light] panels higher up,” he explains. “It takes about two months before all the panels are on.”

The towers cut energy consumption by about 75 percent, Mitchell and his team reported earlier this year.

Right now, experiments are using these specialized LEDs to supplement natural light, not replace it.

But as LEDs get more and more efficient, could growers forgo the natural light altogether and grow crops completely in enclosed rooms, where they’re protected from temperature changes or damaging pests?

That’s exactly what Barry Holtz, at Caliber Biotherapeutics, is already doing.

His farms have never seen the light of day.

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