New crops, automation and big data fueled conversations at the 5th annual Indoor Ag-Con in Las Vegas.
As CEO of FreshBox Farms in Millis, Mass., Sonia Lo ’84 is also interested in local food and using new technologies to create it. FreshBox has pioneered the use of high-density, high-yield, pesticide- and GMO-free vertical hydroponic farming in indoor enclosures. Hydroponics is a method of agriculture that uses nutrients in water, rather than soil, to grow plants. Lo’s company plants heirloom seeds to support biodiversity, regulates nutrients by parts per million, and refines LED lighting to match the exact spectrum of light plants need to thrive. That means she can grow more greens using less water — roughly 2,000 times less water than conventional agriculture — and faster, too.
For FreshBox Farms, an indoor farm operational since 2015 at an old factory site in Millis, Massachusetts, around 30 miles outside of Boston, the technology is important–it is, after all, what enables the greens to grow–but it’s not sacred. “We’re equipment agnostic,” Sonia Lo, the CEO of Crop One Holdings, FreshBox’s parent company, tells Fast Company. “There are people out there doing great work to perfect lights, trays, control systems, nutrient dosing systems–we focus on growing as much as possible.”
During a recent blizzard in Massachusetts, Sonia Lo, CEO of FreshBox Farms, was in a grocery store suggesting to skeptical patrons that they sample her leafy greens. “They were picked yesterday,” is what she told tasters. She also told them no, they weren’t picked elsewhere and flown in that morning.