Many other companies are trying to capitalize on the efficiency and environmental sustainability of hydroponics. A handful of urban farming startups have attracted enormous investments this year.
BrightFarms, which operates a 250,000-square-foot greenhouse in Culpeper County, raised a $55 million Series D investment round in June. Gotham Greens, based in New York and Chicago, raised $29 million in an investment round this past summer.
Beanstalk, another indoor farming startup founded by UVa graduates, participated in the Y Combinator accelerator program this year.
While Beanstalk hopes to disrupt the wholesale market for produce, Babylon Micro-Farms is targeting individual restaurants and health-conscious consumers. The company is scheduled to unveil a residential model of its micro-farm in December, with an estimated starting cost of $3,500.
“When we looked at the industry, we saw that it was confined to massive commercial industrial operations and small DIY kits,” Olesen said. “That doesn’t make any sense, and it reflects the problems of the larger agricultural system.”
Babylon Micro-Farms soon will sell its own produce at local farmers markets and groceries. It has donated greens to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.
“We grow hundreds of crops and experiment with all sorts of rare varieties and herbs that you can’t get in Charlottesville,” Olesen said. “If we say it’s that easy, why wouldn’t we be doing it ourselves?”