10 years ago, AgriFacture co-founders Ed McCammon and David Scranton sat down and discussed the potential crises facing our planet – Water, Energy, and Agriculture – and decided to find a solution. After a decade of thorough research, development, and testing, AgriFacture is now supplying its Better Shrooms mushrooms to local co-ops and restaurants. Here’s how they did it, and why the full decade of testing was essential to the long-term success of the business.
Phase One (2010)
Ed and David began testing compact fluorescents on David’s back porch. Not only did Ed and David find groundbreaking data about light energy conservation that is used by companies to this day, but they also determined the ideal wavelengths and power levels for plant growth. They began to apply their research in ways that could provide solutions to our planet’s food problem.
Phase Two (2011)
The next phase required Ed and David to come up with a way to water the plants and produce that used as little water as possible. Ed and David assembled and began testing a misting system design on David’s back porch.
Phase Three (2012)
Ed and David toyed around with the idea of constructing compact growth systems inside of a shipping container. Although this idea was later scrapped, it led to concepts that are essential to AgriFacture’s current system.
Phase Four (2012)
Ed and David began the development of a system of growth modules that would reside within a warehouse. Each rack would be removable, and the compact layout would allow for maximum production capacity in a minimal amount of space.
Phase Five (2013)
Ed and David combined their prior research on lighting and misting to build a self-contained growth module in David’s basement. This module was used to test increase production per square foot.
Phase Six (2017)
At the end of 2016, AgriFacture purchased its first 10,000 square foot facility in Flat Rock, NC. The facility was to be used for the research and development of AgriFacture’s process designs.
Unfortunately, in early 2017, co-founder David Scranton passed away, and his wife, Christine, stepped in as President to continue AgriFacture’s mission.
Ed, Christine, and the AgriFacture team began building out the warehouse for prototyping, and also installed a water purification system that pulls water from underground and filters it until it reaches a perfect 0 PPM.
Phase Seven (2019)
AgriFacture’s controlled environment was built within the warehouse, and the AgriFacture team began testing the growth of mushrooms.
As of 2020, AgriFacture successfully grows a variety of its trademarked Better Shrooms mushrooms and delivers them to local restaurants and co-ops.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
The idea of developing an indoor, controlled-environment agricultural system is not unique to AgriFacture. Today, there are a number of commercialized indoor vertical farms who are using similar hydroponic technology to grow a variety of lettuce, micro greens, and other fruits and vegetables.
Unfortunately, there are not many success stories.
FarmedHere was once the largest vertical farm in the United States. It was also the first to be certified organic by USDA. But in 2017, it closed for good. In 2019, Urban Organics told a similar story. After six years of successfully combining fish with vegetables in a unique closed-loop symbiotic system , Pentair pulled the plug on the project and shut the farm down.
A common pitfall of vertical farms like these is that they are only capable of achieving small-scale success. They develop a design that works on paper, or on a small scale, and then get right into production – without testing whether that system will work on a full scale. They burn bright, but it is temporary. After a few years, they fizzle out. This has happened over and over again.
As we mentioned in our Zero-Waste article, the key to successfully developing and implementing a closed-loop, commodity-scale system is to plan for the long-term. There is no quick fix to solve the problem of how to feed the world in the future. The reason AgriFacture spent 10 years in research and development is because we wanted to be absolutely sure that we were developing a system that would work on a large scale – one of commodity scale production that could feed the masses. Every step of the process, every phase, we worked until we achieved small-scale success. Then, we applied those numbers to see if they would work on a large scale. We asked: Could these methods be used to produce thousands of pounds of produce, and feed millions of people? If the answer was no, then we scrapped it.
The vast majority of commercial urban farms today do not have this goal. They are not thinking on a big enough scale. With enough funding and technology, anyone could make an indoor farm capable of growing food to feed a nearby town and make a profit. But developing an agricultural process that was able to operate on a scale so big that it could feed the world and replace traditional agriculture completely? That’s a much bigger feat – one that has taken AgriFacture ten years of meticulous research and testing.
A Bright Future
Humans have 12,000 years of experience growing food, but only a generation or so worth of experience growing crops indoors. It’s clear that the industry as a whole has much to learn; however, the future of vertical farming looks very promising, and is just starting to take off. Indoor vertical farms are one of the most efficient ways to get fresh food into our cities and food-insecure places like Alaska and other often overlooked food deserts.
Every year, there are new companies emerging that promise to deliver new solutions in every subcategory from growing equipment, lighting technology, climate controls, data, sensors, automation, and much more. By exerting more control over the growing environment, making better use of our resources, and implementing smart, labor-efficient growing technology, our generation will see some tremendous strides made toward greater access to better food for anyone who wants it.
The AgriFacture timeline dates back 10 years. But AgriFacture, and the entire indoor vertical farming industry, are just getting started.
AgriFacture is a family-owned business that has spent the last decade developing cutting-edge methodologies to change the entire dynamics of agriculture. AgriFacture’s model of controlled environmental agriculture allows consumers to enjoy local, fresh, pesticide-free, nutrient-rich vegetables, fruits, mushrooms and herbs year-round, regardless of where they live.
AgriFacture currently utilizes a 10,000-square-foot research and development facility in Flat Rock, NC and plans to build an even larger 40,000-square-foot indoor farm. Unlike other commercial vertical farms on the market today, AgriFacture changes the dynamic by utilizing robotics and automation to control the entire process – from seed to fork.