Indoor farming: agriculture’s next revolution?


There’s a growing agriculture trend in North Texas centered on urban farming. An offshoot of that concept exists away from sunlight. Indoor (or ‘vertical’ farming) is already taking root in a few spots in Texas, most prominently in Bryan, where crops are being grown for use in vaccines. The Texas A&M AgriLife Research & Extension Center at Dallas is exploring the same technology for use in large-scale food production.

The Food 3.0 project looks at the intersection of a growing global population and the demands for sustainable food supply less reliant on massive inputs of non-renewable energy, water and chemicals.Tom Timbol with Texas A&M works with the project, and says concepts existed on paper for what a potential model looked like. “We needed to show people what a working model might look like,” he said.

That’s where Glenn Behrman comes into this story. “I’ve been in the indoor agriculture industry for four decades,” he said. Behrman is a New York native who was living in Thailand a few years ago when he said he and a business investor thought they saw an opportunity to market indoor farming. “The price of LED lights came down quite a bit, so it’s become more affordable to create an environment that will work to grow produce indoors.”

Behrman worked on his Growtainer concept in Miami before partnering with Texas A&M to bring two of his container farm concepts to Dallas. Visitors are bathed in a pink glow from the blue and red LEDs inside one of the containers. Behrman believes. “This is Thai basil, real Thai basil,” he pointed out. “We have interest from various supermarket chains and schools and high-volume users.”

He wants to take indoor agriculture and apply it to large-scale food operations — including the ability to grow produce right inside a store. “Living lettuce — as long as I have a place to keep it alive and in the perfect optimum condition until you buy it — it makes all the sense in the world,” Behrman said.

There are locations in North Texas where you can already find produce grown indoors. Some products are are sold at farmers’ markets. The Green Grocer on Greenville Avenue in Dallas carries heirloom tomatoes from a producer that grows the crop indoors.

“Here in Dallas it’s a new concept,” owner Cassie Green said, adding that new ideas in sustainable food production are overdue. “Is it the future? I don’t know,” she said. ” I would hope that as our cities get denser and more people move to the cities, we start to figure out a way to grow ourselves.”

The Growtainer could change the way we produce fruits and vegetables. Behrman said the products are about 60 to 90 days from being ready to sell — and they’re not cheap. He estimates a full-size Growtainer will cost approximately $75,000; the smaller version will run around $3,000. Behrman adds that he and an investment partner have poured nearly $1 million into the concept.

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