Dan Albert, VP of Plant Performance, Unfold
My journey within the vertical farming space has been a long and diverse path that today has brought me to Unfold as the VP of Plant Performance. But, my story began in Seattle back in 2008.
Early in my career, I worked at an architecture firm and entered a company-sponsored competition to create a design concept for a “highly-sustainable building.” As a part of that entry, we introduced an element of onsite, indoor food production. That seed of an idea grew into my life exploration of what would later be known as vertical farming.
In the early days, I was most interested in how this new archetype could fit into cities. On my path for answers, I became fast friends with who I like to think of as the “Johnny Appleseed” of vertical farming, Dr. Dickson Despommier, author of “The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century.” From the book, the theoretical views he held about vertical farming, I believed had a practical use in cities. Building on this idea, I started a small indoor, hydroponic, vertical farm that eventually became Farmbox Greens.
Farmbox Greens, by today’s standards, was a modest venture, heavily bootstrapped and small in comparison to the bigger industry players. However, we quickly became one of the largest microgreen farms in the U.S., serving customers with a strong value proposition of providing fresh, local, and sustainably grown produce. It was clear that Farmbox Greens, and more broadly vertical farms, worked.
In 2016, Farmbox Greens was acquired by Charlie’s Produce, a large produce distributor headquartered in Seattle. Together, we built the farm and scaled the business to serve customers all over the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
Flash forward to April of this year, when the world changed forever, I was faced with a difficult decision. I chose to leave the company that I founded to set out on a new adventure of helping to raise our family’s two children. As the founder of a business, I think there’s a blending of work and life where there are no clear boundaries. For the first time in nearly ten years, I only had to focus on one.
Although I cherished that time and still do, I couldn’t fully move on from vertical farms. I wondered what was next for me and how I could help make the world a better place?
When I read that Unfold launched I reached out immediately to CEO John Purcell to see if I could help them. With John at the helm, I knew that he would assemble a ground-up team of talented entrepreneurs. Not to mention, I felt that their partnership between Bayer and Temasek to bring seed genetics (germplasm) to this market was not only needed but would be the catalyst to realizing the full potential of vertical farming.
From my days at Farmbox Greens, I knew that no matter how great the growing system or environmental improvements we made were, the seed was, and remains, the most magical and important of the inputs. Now, as Unfold’s VP of Plant Performance, I have the opportunity to work with our team, and our customers to develop products that are new and optimized for vertical farming.
It’s an exciting time for Unfold, the industry as a whole, and I’m eager to create, collaborate, and serve our customers and the marketplace as we all look to make the world a little better of a place.