Indoor Produce Farming for Commercial Sales
I recently had the opportunity to tour another indoor growing facility and was amazed at the grandeur, sanitation and magnitude of this operation. In the past I’ve toured two other facilities here in Las Vegas, with advantages and disadvantage as compared to the brand new Oasis Biotech facility. One of the advantages other operations in town have is the ability to grow plants at your restaurant location. This is done in attractive growers that can be used as a display for a buffet or banquet while the herbs are being used for action stations or garnishes at the same time. This is not currently available with the international brand Oasis Biotech, but it is in their plans down the road.
In 2010 there were two indoor growing facilities in Southern Nevada while last year there were 42 and this year there are 59 farming locations. A city like Las Vegas can certainly support all operations that are currently here and even more. Many of the smaller operations distribute themselves while the larger ones might add on to an existing produce distributor. The multi-sized growing operations in town are able to serve a variety of foodservice operation sizes.
I was amazed to learn that in 2014, 8% of the food available in local grocery stores was grown locally while 92% were shipped in by truck. If you asked me, I think both are staggering numbers in many ways. I can’t believe that 8% of the local supermarket items are produced locally, but it’s amazing that 92% of our groceries are imported.
According to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, agriculture in Nevada generates more than one-half of billion dollars’ worth of revenue annually and over 100 million dollars every year in exports. These figures will only grow with the current trend towards indoor farming.
There are many advantages of locally grown produce, especially leafy greens and fresh herbs. One big advantage is the freshness of the product. The product might have been picked that morning and been delivered to a food service operation that afternoon. Another advantage is pricing. Although the price might be high now, local indoor farming creates savings due to a reduction in delivery costs; additionally, this process saves a lot in the carbon footprint left by long-haul deliveries. Another advantage of indoor farming is the ability to create products that fit the end-users’ specifications. This may include age, size or flavor profile.
Another eco-friendly aspect of indoor farming is how much less water is used to grow products. This method can save up to 90% of the water used to grow products on a traditional farm. Some of the operations also recycle 100% of the unused nutrient water back into their irrigation systems. Most indoor farm products additionally are free of herbicides, fungicides and pesticides; they also usually are non-GMO, or genetically modified organisms.
Many operations use nutrients that are concentrated while some of the smaller operations use natural fertilizers, having the water that comes through the hydroponic growing cycle go to a fish tank and then the fish waste goes to fertilize the plants.
Another advantage with indoor farming is the ability to grow more products in a smaller area. Oasis Biotech has a little over an acre facility and they are able to grow the equivalent of a 34 acre farm. They do this by utilizing LED lighting and stacking products on shelving up to five tiers high, although the next buildout will have much higher growth tiers. The LED lighting recreate sunlight 24/7, like how quickly large produce grows in the summer in Alaska. The LED lights consume 50% less energy but are more expensive to install. Most indoor farming operations use a different type of lighting.
All indoor growing operations use hydroponics as a growing method with added nutrients to replicate what would be in the soil on a farm. One of the great advantages of hydroponic growing, for the environment, is there is no soil erosion. A positive aspect for the grower is the ability to change nutrients and growing environments for different products. Oasis Biotech has 7 different growing regions within their facility.
Oasis biotech grows 85 varieties currently with expansion plans on balls the size of their operation in the products they offer. Every day they produce 1,500 pounds of produce and the average time from seed to harvest is 21 days.
Oasis Biotech also uses only 300 to 500 gallons per day which is equivalent to a family household of four and is 90% less water than a traditional farm uses. It also produces zero pollution since it recycles 100%.
One great thing I learned during these tours is that all the companies I visited donate, and promote donations to community service organizations that help others.