Why I’m empowering 1,000’s of millennials to become #realfood entrepreneurs through Vertical Farming
Announcing Square Roots. An urban farming accelerator that will empower 1,000’s of millennials to become #realfood entrepreneurs.
Strong communities are built around local, real food. Food we trust to nourish our bodies, the farmer and planet. This is #realfood.
Sadly, many people in our biggest cities are at the mercy of industrial food. The industrial food system ships in high-calorie, low-nutrient, processed food from thousands of miles away. It leaves us disconnected from our food and the people who grow it. As Michael Pollan and others are have pointed out, the results are awful — from childhood obesity and diabetes to a total loss of community in our food.
But as my friend Jamie Oliver says, a #realfood revolution is coming. The data is everywhere you care to look. Young people especially are turning away from McDonald’s towards healthy, locally-sourced options like Next Door and Sweetgreen. Microwave sales have plateaued as people realize that reheated TV dinners give us no joy. The revulsion seen on social media when Deep Fried Twinkies were announced last week was incredible. There’s no doubt about it: people want local, real food.
I co-founded The Kitchen to play my role in this real food revolution a decade ago.
The Kitchen’s mission is to strengthen communities by bringing local, real food to everyone. With our commitment to local food sourcing, our restaurants have become major catalysts for local food economies — across Colorado, Chicago, and now Memphis — serving real food to over 1 million guests a year. Meanwhile, our non-profit The Kitchen Community has built 300 Learning Gardens across the country — inspiring 150,000 kids each day as we get them outdoors and teach them about real food.
But the impact of those initiatives are a drop in the ocean compared to what’s needed. By 2050, 9 billion people will live on our planet, and 70% of them will live in cities. These people need food. And the data is clear: they will want local, real food.
The industrial food system will not solve this problem (more Deep Fried Twinkies, anyone?). Instead, finding the right solution presents an extraordinary opportunity for new entrepreneurs. As I’ve said before, “Food is the new internet.” I know the next generation is excited to join the #realfood revolution, and shape the future.
That’s why I’m thrilled to introduce a new company in The Kitchen’s family: Square Roots.
Introducing Square Roots
Square Roots is an urban farming accelerator — empowering 1,000’s of millennials to join the real food revolution. Our goal is to enable a whole new generation of real food entrepreneurs, ready to build thriving, responsible businesses. The opportunities in front of them will be endless.
Square Roots creates campuses of climate-controlled, indoor, hydroponic vertical farms, right in the hearts of our biggest cities. On these campuses, we train young entrepreneurs to grow non-GMO, fresh, tasty, real food all year round, and sell locally. And we coach them to create forward-thinking companies that — like The Kitchen — strengthen communities by bringing local, real food to everyone.
Leveraging proven technologies like Freight Farms and ZipGrow, Square Roots’ vertical farms are literally built inside shipping containers. They essentially enable three-dimensional growing — giving farmers the annual yield equivalent of two acres of outdoor farmland inside a climate-controlled module with a footprint of barely 320 sq. ft. These systems also use 80% less water than outdoor farms. That’s the potential for a lot of real food grown in a very small space using very few resources.
Best of all: vertical farms can be installed in the middle of cities. Our urban campuses will have anywhere from 10 to 100 farms. Using this platform, Square Roots entrepreneurs can avoid almost all the transport-impact of the industrial food system — by growing real food, at scale, right next to people who want to eat it.
Our first campus is in Brooklyn, NYC, and is opening this Fall. We’re currently in the process of selecting ten founding entrepreneurs to be part of the inaugural, year-long season. The future of food needs to address a wide range of challenges — from sustainability to tech-enabled farming, from social impact to food policy — and we’re looking for entrepreneurial individuals with these passions and more. If that sounds like you, hit us up.
While we certainly have a lot to prove in the initial phases of Square Roots, our plan is to quickly replicate campuses across America. The more of us working towards the real food revolution the better.
Square Roots is co-founded by a long-time friend and colleague of mine, Tobias Peggs — a serial entrepreneur himself with two VC-backed tech startup exits to his name, and PhD in AI. He was most recently President at The Kitchen’s Impact team, and is now CEO of Square Roots.
He has pulled together a fantastic team, and network of mentors, with the know-how to grow tasty food and coach young entrepreneurs to do well by doing good. The Square Roots team has already received incredible support from the wider New York real food and urban ag communities and we can’t thank those communities enough (we are very much all in this together!). Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has also been incredibly helpful, and we’re excited as we explore ways to partner with the USDA to empower Square Roots farmers across the country. Likewise, the team is surrounded by a wonderful set of investors — including The Kitchen, Powerplant Ventures, GroundUp, Lightbank and FoodTech Angels. It’s a diverse set of folks all pulling together on a common thread: a true belief in the power of local #realfood.
We’ll have a lot more to announce before our full launch in the fall — so make sure you follow us on medium for updates. But, for today, we couldn’t be more excited about this initial reveal. Welcome to Square Roots: an urban farming accelerator powered by human ingenuity, technology, and most importantly a deep love for local #realfood. Let’s do this.