Ignacio Nuñez
Director General
Vertical Farms
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View from the Top

Growing the Potential of Vertical Farms

Tue, 11/01/2016 - 10:38

Q: How have you advanced in efforts to become a private enterprise?

A: Vertical Farms was born from an NGO called México Fusión Cultural, in which we remain active members. This association works to convert social and environmental initiatives into private businesses that do not rely only on donations to continue their work. The idea is to create selfsustaining companies that can later offer financial support to the association. Vertical Farms is collaborating with México Fusión Cultural in a social-interest project to boost local agriculture in a low-income community in Puebla. On the commercial side of our venture, we are discussing the installation of an urban farm with Garden Santa Fe, a shopping center that has one of the largest green rooftops in Latin America.

Q: How can Mexico City’s families benefit from installing vertical farms in their homes?

A: Vertical Farms targets farmers in Mexico City’s rural areas and neighborhoods in Tlalpan, Magdalena Contreras, Cuajimalpa, Milpa Alta, Tlahuac and Xochimilco. People can grow a variety of vegetables and fruits in vertical farms, with the possibility of integrating a fish breeding system using a technique called aquaponics. The sustainable system can cover up to 30 percent of a family’s food requirements, which provides a considerable economic value even if the unit is only used for self-consumption. To promote our product in this market segment we are organizing training sessions to teach people the benefits of urban farming, as well as the potential costs and revenues.

Q: What potential growth is there for vertical gardens in Mexico?

A: The private and public sectors in Mexico lack innovative approaches that can promote sustainable business. We acknowledge certain advances like the electric vehicles supported by Bimbo but these initiatives are the exception rather than the rule. Japan and Singapore have proven themselves to be the most advanced countries when it comes to urban farming and vertical gardens. Asia has innovative technology that allows houses to grow crops in basements with special lighting. Mexico is just starting to see the first prototypes but we expect the product will soon grow in the market. Vertical farms are threatened by a modern urban population that categorizes farming as a rural activity. Mexico City used to have urban farms and rural settings in the 1950s but most of them vanished during the country’s modernization process. The city’s increasing population, which is expected to reach 24 million by 2030, is raising new concerns regarding land, water and food scarcity and vertical urban farms might arise as a suitable alternative. The technology needed to construct urban farms is not complex and requires a small initial investment. We are cultivating strategies to promote urban farming for both self-consumption and commercial purposes because the organic fruits and vegetables market has great potential. We are designing two residential models in the Mexico City neighborhoods of San Jeronimo and San Angel, which will be the first of their kind in Mexico.

Q: What challenges are ahead and what is the outlook for Vertical Farms in the longer term?

A: Our main challenge is to raise awareness about the potential of vertical farming. We are discussing the possibility of a joint venture with SHARP, IUSASOL and some other companies that will involve adapting solar panels to power the automated components of our vertical farms. Part of our strategy is to build urban farms in public places to motivate people to find out more about this technology. We have already seen a similar initiative in the greenhouse project in the Bicentenario Park in Azcapotzalco, funded by the Mexico City government. Competition is not a threat to our business because our main objective is to simply create a market. Promoting vertical farms and increasing their demand in Mexican cities will be easier as we increasingly collaborate with other private companies, governments and NGOs. In 10 years, we expect to have our product positioned in Mexico City and have some initiatives under development in other Mexican states.