Meet high-tech urban farmers growing vegetables in Hong Kong’s skyscrapers

Gordon Tam, co-founder and CEO of vertical farming company Farm66 wants to show that agriculture combined with technology has a promising future in cities, deserts and even outer space.

men In early February, 7.4 million residents of Hong Kong, the financial center of Asia, faced a shortage of fresh food. Shelves of vegetables and more are empty throughout the city’s supermarkets as stringent Covid-19 controls across mainland China borders severely hamper fresh food supplies.

As a densely populated city with limited agricultural space, Hong Kong is almost entirely dependent on the outside world for its food supply. over 90 Most of the food in the city’s skyscrapers, especially fresh produce such as vegetables, is imported from mainland China. Gordon Tam, co-founder and CEO of a vertical farming company, said: “During the pandemic, we have all found that locally grown vegetables are very under-productive. farm 66 in Hong Kong. “It had a huge social impact.”

Tam estimates that only about 1.5% of the city’s vegetables are grown locally. However, he believes that with the help of modern technologies such as IoT sensors, LED lighting and robots, vertical farms like Farm66 can enhance local food production in Hong Kong and export their know-how to other cities. “Vertical farming is a good solution because you can plant vegetables in the city,” Tam said in an interview at the company’s vertical farm in an industrial park. “We can grow our own vegetables so we don’t have to depend on income.”

Tam says he started Farm66 in 2013 with his co-founder Billy Lam, the company’s COO, a pioneer in high-tech vertical farming in Hong Kong. “Our company was the first to use energy-saving LED lighting and wavelength technology on a farm,” he says. “We found that different colors in the light spectrum help plants grow in different ways. This was our technological breakthrough.” For example, red LED lighting makes the stems grow faster and blue LED lighting makes plants grow larger leaves.

Farm66 also uses IoT sensors and robots for quality control and helps companies manage a 20,000-square-foot indoor farm, helping companies recruit and retain staff. “The biggest problem with traditional agriculture is the lack of talent,” says Tam. “Because the children of many remaining farmers do not want to inherit the farm. They think it’s a very tedious task.”

“But you can use technology to improve the work environment so young people are willing to farm,” he says. Farm66 currently employs 15 full-time employees, including data analysts, food scientists and mechanical engineers, and produces up to 7 tonnes of vegetables per month.

Data analysis of Farm66’s use of technology, particularly light intensity, water flow and air conditioning, has attracted people’s attention. Particle X, a Hong Kong-based tech-focused venture capital firm backed by billionaire Tang Yiu. “We are grateful that Gordon and his team performed a significant amount of data analysis on agricultural mechanisms,” said Mingles Tsoi, ParticleX’s Chief Exploration Officer. “That’s why we chose them as our primary investment target.”

Other investors in Farm66 include Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund, Hong Kong government-backed Cyberport and Sino Group, Hong Kong real estate developer for Singapore billionaire Robert Ng. It has raised over $4 million in total so far.

Earlier this year, Farm66 also received funding from the Chinese government’s Hengqin Financial Investment and was approved for the HK Tech 300 Angel Fund, a start-up support program at City University of Hong Kong (where co-founder Lam obtained his bachelor’s degree in Applied Chemistry). Last year, the company created the first Forbes Asia 100 to Watch list highlighting notable small businesses and startups emerging in the Asia Pacific region.

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“A more sustainable consumption behavior is to consume locally.”

Mingles Tsoi, Chief Exploration Officer at ParticleX.

Farm66 aquaponically grows leafy vegetables, herbs and fruits. In other words, it is a sustainable agricultural technique that uses nutrients from fish waste to grow plants instead of commercial fertilizers. Plants, in turn, filter the water inhabited by fish, creating a self-regulating indoor ecosystem.

The company packages produce for sale to supermarkets, hotels, and luxury retailers. Additionally, Farm66 recently received inquiries from schools and private organizations asking them to help them grow their own food in kitchens and confined spaces. “We provide a farm-to-table system for organizations to grow their own vegetables,” says Tam, who holds a Master’s degree in Sustainable Urban Development from Hong Kong Polytechnic University. “We want to promote urban agriculture and ESG principles to improve quality of life.”

Farm66 has already worked with top local banks. Tam said the company is working with real estate developers such as Sino Group, Chinachem Group and Hong Kong billionaire Lee Shau Kee’s Henderson Land Development to bring urban farming systems into residential and commercial buildings such as soilless farms powered by solar or wind power. I plan to do it, he added. rooftop energy.

“People will become aware of the environmental, social and governance issues that they import from far away from your location. They will consume more energy and emit more carbon.” Analyst at Hong Kong Institute of Social Impact. “A more sustainable consumption behavior is to consume locally.”

After completing her undergraduate studies at Washington State University, Tam plans to expand Farm66 beyond Hong Kong to other cities, exporting her urban farming systems and know-how. Farm66, for example, has built a mobile farm from shipping containers for a desert city in the Middle East.

Tsoi points to the Greater Bay Area, the Chinese government’s plan to consolidate the gambling centers of Hong Kong and Macao and nine cities in southern China into one large economic cluster, and Southeast Asia, home to some of the world’s most densely populated cities: do. Potential market for Farm66.

And like billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, Tam looks beyond the opportunities limited to Earth. “We are exploring new ideas for farming in outer space,” he says. “He has been at the forefront of research into the future of agriculture, including growing plants in a zero-gravity environment.”

“We have a lot of innovative farming ideas,” adds Tam. “We hope to help the public understand that agriculture combined with technology has a promising future.”

— with the help of Robert Olsen.

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