Eric and Matt founded Local Roots four years ago. Their first purchases were broken-down, 40-foot shipping containers.
Local Roots upcycles the containers into modular, shippable, customizable farms, each of which can grow as much produce as five acres of farmland. The idea is to supplement, not supplant, outdoor agriculture.
Every aspect of the TerraFarm, as the repurposed shipping containers have been dubbed, has been designed and optimized. The gently pulsing LED lights are purplish—apparently, that’s what lettuce likes—and the solution in which the plants are grown is clean and clear. The “farm” is bright and vibrant, and it smells great in there.
This environment came about because Local Roots consulted a lot of experts. It employs horticulturalists, mechanical, electrical, and environmental engineers, software and AI developers, and data and nutrition scientists. The company does this to ensure that the growing conditions and produce are always optimal—both for the plants’ growth and their nutritional content.
TerraFarms use no pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. This means they generate no toxic runoff, and the produce fits most definitions of organic food. They use 99-percent less water and obviously much less land than outdoor farms. Since the farms are indoors, they are not subject to the vagaries of weather, be it the extreme temperatures, storms, and droughts brought on by climate change or the more mundane conditions of heat, cold, or dryness that exist outside of LA.
They can be moved anywhere—desert, tundra, underground, and even Mars, as both Eric and Matt pointed out independently of each other. Wherever the TerraFarms are, their conditions will be constantly monitored by the experts back at HQ in Vernon, California, just outside of downtown LA, where Local Roots recently built a huge new facility.
TerraFarms is intended to reside and be staffed near distribution centers for major retailers, never further than 50 miles from the consumers eating the produce. So most of that same two-week period will elapse while the produce is in your fridge.
Local Roots thus seems to have managed to attain both the benefits of small organic farms—i.e., fresh, local produce—while keeping the benefits of large, industrialized agriculture, like technical expertise and centralized distribution.
The company is now claiming that it has achieved cost parity with traditional, outdoor farming. Local Roots has concentrated on growing greens—lettuces and some herbs. Since these are highly perishable, they benefit the most from being grown locally and getting to consumers quickly. But in principle, each TerraFarm can be customized to grown anything, anywhere.