This interview details GreenForges, an underground farming company based in Canada. The interview is with Nicola Maglio, Chief Marketing Officer of GreenForges.
What is the origin story of GreenForges?
GreenForges was started in 2019 by Philippe Labrie with the goal of expanding agricultural output in urban areas. While researching urban farming, he became aware of the space constraints that limit its development. He thought: why not underground? Can we drill holes in the ground and grow our food inside of them, just like leaf-cutter ants have been doing for millions of years?
After exploring the idea from a conceptual level and receiving validation from key industry experts, he assembled a team and GreenForges was born.
Four years later, the technology is far enough that we are working closely with clients to structure our first pilot farm, and negotiating with various stakeholders to make it happen.
What is unique about GreenForges compared to competitors? (moved this one up here because it sets the stage for the following one about challenges)
Energy efficiency, building integration, and our direct-to-consumer business model.
Energy efficiency and stability
Let’s start with the first one: we designed our systems optimizing for energy efficiency and stability.
Thanks to these advantages, we aim for our systems to be able to be around 35% more energy efficient in terms of kWh per kg of produce compared to the average vertical farming systems.
The holes required by our systems can be installed through traditional drilling rigs used for pile foundations. That means that we can install our systems right below new buildings, we only need to drill a few extra holes.
Being right below buildings comes with several advantages:
Direct-to-consumer business model
As anticipated above, our model involves partnering with urban planners and real estate developers to integrate this new technology in their new developments. Because the produce is produced literally at its point of consumption, it allows us to cut out transportation, distribution and packaging from our costs and emissions, enabling us to sell our food for a more competitive price while, at the same time, maintaining healthy profits. Moving forward, we believe one of the biggest keys to our success will come from developing enough variety in our crops offerings. Since we’re serving humans and not turtles, there’s only so much lettuce that we can grow and sell.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing GreenForges in the future?
Mainly energy and crop variety, just like most players in the industry.
Although, as explained above, we designed our systems with energy efficiency in mind and it represents one of our unique advantages, underground farming is still an energy-intensive practice. It will be important to hedge against volatility in energy supply and prices.
Crop variety is particularly important to us as our direct-to-consumer model relies on it for appealing to consumers. Companies that sell wholesale to large distributors have to worry less about it, as their added value lies in large, specialized, stable production. We will have to make important investments in R&D to rapidly expand our crop offering without sacrificing quality. We are currently putting together a collaborative project to partner up with universities to achieve that scale.
How do you measure the impact of your company so far? (Revenue, Employees, Customer Quantity, Production Volume) etc?
Because we are pre-commercialization, we are measuring our impact by the number of clients in our pipeline and progress in the development of our technology. After commercialization, some of the main metrics to measure impact will be:
At the end of the day, we are trying to feed people healthy food without destroying the planet.
Lbs per square foot is a good metric to evaluate the performance of our systems from a production point of view. To give you an example, in a scenario we recently built to grow a mix of leafy greens and herbs, a benchmark comparison against an average vertical farm and an average greenhouse shows that our systems would be around 10% more productive per square foot compared to the vertical farm and around 750% more productive compared to the greenhouse.
Revenue per square foot is another great metric to evaluate the economic attractiveness of our systems. From that same scenario, the comparison in revenue per square foot results in Plant Forges yielding around 250% more revenue per square foot than the vertical farm and around 5800% more compared to the greenhouse.
Please note that these metrics largely depend on variables such as crop type, geographical location, economic variables such as selling prices and more. Hence, it’s hard to draw absolute conclusions in terms of comparison. Remember these numbers come from one scenario, it’s just to give you an example of a few of the metrics we will be monitoring.
What have you learned that you wish you knew when you started the company?
How patient we would have to be.
How can people connect with you or learn more about GreenForges?
For learning about our company, they can visit our website greenforges.com
We’re always happy to help. For connecting with our team, they can email me at email@example.com and I will redirect their inquiry to the right person inside the company.
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