When it opens this fall in Brooklyn, a new urban farm will grow a new crop: farmers. The Square Roots campus, co-founded by entrepreneurs Kimbal Musk and Tobias Peggs, will train new vertical farmers in a year-long accelerator program.
“Young people contact me all the time to articulate issues with the industrial food system but they are frustrated by their perceived inability to do anything about it,” says Musk. “It’s relatively easy to set up a tech company, join an accelerator, and progress down a pathway towards success. It’s more complex to do that with food. Seeing this frustration–and pent-up energy–was a big part of the original inspiration for co-founding Square Roots.”
The campus will use technology from Freight Farms, a company that repurposes used shipping containers for indoor farming, and ZipGrow, which produces indoor towers for plants. Inside a space smaller than some studio apartments–320 square feet–each module can yield the same amount of food as two acres of outdoor farmland in a year. Like other indoor farming technology, it also saves water and gives city-dwellers immediate access to local food.
New urban farmers will learn specific skills from mentors–how to grow plants hydroponically, or how to sell at farmer’s markets (though hopefully it will be a little more advanced than the level of the very funny rendering Square Roots sent us, which you can see in the slideshow above)–and they’ll also collaborate on new ideas. “The idea of ‘the campus’ came from watching magic happen at tech accelerators, like Techstars, where I’ve been a long time mentor,” says Peggs, who will be CEO of the new accelerator. “The aim with the campus is to create an environment where entrepreneurial electricity can flow.”
It’s intended for early-stage entrepreneurs. “We’re here to help them become future leaders in food,” says Musk, who also runs a network of school gardens and a chain of restaurants that aim to source as much local food as possible.
After building out the Brooklyn campus, they plan to expand to other cities, likely starting with cities where Musk also runs his other projects–Memphis, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh. Each location will have 10 to 100 of the shipping container farms; Brooklyn will start with 10.
“We have a lot to prove in Brooklyn but our aim to replicate the model in every community as soon as we can,” says Musk.