Kimbal Musk has big plans for food grown in small spaces with Square Roots

Kimbal Musk, billionaire entrepreneur, and co-founder Tobias Peggs hope to shake up the local food economy with the launch of Square Roots this fall.

Produce in Square Roots storage bins will be rooted in water and LED cultivated. (U.S. Army RDECOM/Flickr)
Produce in Square Roots storage bins will be rooted in water and LED cultivated. (U.S. Army RDECOM/Flickr)
Produce in Square Roots storage bins will be rooted in water and LED cultivated. (U.S. Army RDECOM/Flickr)

Kimbal Musk, billionaire entrepreneur, and co-founder Tobias Peggs hope to shake up the local food economy with the launch of Square Roots this fall, Business Insider reported.

Square Roots, which Musk announced in August, is a vertical farming venture and urban agriculture incubator program based in Brooklyn’s old Pfizer factory. Musk founded it in similar spirit to his Boulder-based venture, The Kitchen, a farm-to-table restaurant with locations in Boulder, Chicago and Memphis.

“Our goal is to enable a whole new generation of real food entrepreneurs, ready to build thriving, responsible businesses,” Musk wrote in a Medium post about his new venture.

Using technology developed by vertical farming startups Freight Farms and ZipGrow, Square Roots will provide agricultural entrepreneurs with the business know-how and technological capacity to launch a new wave of urban farming. Square Roots will begin by giving 10 farmers 320-square-foot shipping containers, equivalent to roughly two acres of traditional farm land. Plants grown within will be rooted in water and cultivated under LED lights, Business Insider reported.

Farmers will have 24/7 access to their containers for one full year and are encouraged to sell locally whatever yield they produce, including Bibb lettuce, basil and even kale.

Once the Brooklyn facility gets fully up and running, it will host parties, guest speakers and a farmers market. If Square Roots is successful, Musk plans to open more locations throughout New York and eventually branch into other major cities.

“While we certainly have a lot to prove in the initial phases of Square Roots, our plan is to quickly replicate campuses across America,” Musk wrote on Medium. “The more of us working towards the real food revolution the better.”

Proponents of vertical farming, including Musk and Peggs, tout the many perceived sustainability advantages over traditional farming. For one, vertical farms require about 80 percent less water and significantly less space than in-ground agriculture — not to mention proximity to market. On-site food production in major cities cuts down on costs and resources associated with transporting produce, and results in fresher yield.

Musk, who is brother to SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, has many of the same entrepreneurial instincts. He was an early investor in Paypal and Zip2 but his true passions are food and sustainability. Today Musk sits on the board of Denver-based Chipotle, and has opened a chain of farm-to-table restaurants and affiliated nonprofits to bring nutrition and gardening education to school children.

Square Roots has already attracted investment from major players in food reform, including The Kitchen, Powerplant Ventures, GroundUp, Lightbank and FoodTech Angels.

Square Roots is still accepting applicants for its inaugural round of vertical farming. Feel like transplanting to Brooklyn and trying your hand? Apply here.

Multimedia business & healthcare reporter Chloe Aiello can be reached via email at caiello@denverite.com or twitter.com/chlobo_ilo.

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