How Bowery Farming is growing the indoor agriculture space

It’s easy to drive past Bowery Farming’s Nottingham Farm, just north of Baltimore.

The farm is located in a warehouse complex that is in plain sight of the road, but at the far end of the parking lot. The sign that tells the world this warehouse building it’s part of Bowery’s network of next-generation farms is actually on the back side of the building, so visitors who know they are in the right place might also be a bit confused. 

But once you walk through the glass doors, pass through a locker room to get protective clothing, and step into a foam sprayed on the floor that disinfects your shoes, it’s apparent that it’s a place where crops are grown — but unlike the farms everyone learned about as children.

A metal structure fills the room, with staircases winding up toward the ceiling. Massive shelves filled with trays of greens in various stages of development are stacked into several stories. The greens are lush and full — or they’re seedlings that look like they will eventually get there. Some trays are in motion, being conveyed to points in the structure where they will find the optimal growing conditions.

Bars above each tray of greens provide them with sunlight. Some of them have water trickling in from a faucet to help them grow, then dripping out into a tray to recirculate. The farm feels humid, smells fresh as you walk near mature plants like patches of basil, and has the constant humming sound of extra carbon dioxide being pumped into the room. 

Henry Sztul, chief science officer at Bowery Farming, pauses before walking up the steps of the mega-structure.

“It’s really hard to get a sense for how big our farms are,” he said, encouraging a look through the structure to the back wall of the warehouse, and up toward the ceiling. “And so you see how far it goes down here. How far it goes up.”

Bowery Farming’s Nottingham, Maryland, location.

Megan Poinski/Food Dive

 

Bowery Farming was founded in 2015 by former tech entrepreneur Irving Fain. It’s spent the last seven years improving its system of vertical hydroponic gardening. The Nottingham Farm, which serves consumers in a radius of about 200 miles — including Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia — was the company’s largest when it opened in late 2019.

As a company, Bowery is quite literally growing. It’s newest and largest farm, located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, opens today. The Eastern Pennsylvania location will make fresh produce available to about 50 million people who live within 200 miles of the farm. And once this farm is in full swing, Bowery says it will be able to produce 47 million servings of leafy greens each year at all of its farms combined.

The growth is just continuing. In early 2023, the company is slated to open two more farms in Arlington, Texas, and Locust Grove, Georgia.

The company expansion is made by possible by what Bowery Farming Chief Commercial Officer Katie Seawell called momentum and energy around the company — and the entire next-generation farming space. Bowery was one of the first of the new generation of farms that uses technology and indoor spaces to grow fresh and sustainable greens year-round and nationwide. Money is helping that growth, too. Last year, it received a $300 million investment round — one of the largest ever in indoor farming — that it’s using to expand its farms as well as improve its technology. Early this year, it secured a $150 million credit facility led by private accounts managed by KKR.

But, Seawell said, the expansion is also driven by how Bowery uses the latest in technology to make its produce grow and feed consumers with fresher greens than many are used to having.

“We are a new gold standard in produce,” Seawell said. “When you look underneath at what consumers are caring about, [it’s] pesticide free, local, freshness, safety.”

How a vertical farming company grows

Sztul, who joined the company in its early days, has a Ph.D. in physics and had previously worked as an engineer and product developer at tech companies. Farming and agriculture wasn’t in Sztul’s background, but he was intrigued by how to use indoor farming to make a difference, and how to use technology to scale it up.

He’s credited with being a key developer of the BoweryOS, the proprietary operating system that uses copious amounts of data and artificial intelligence to determine how to best grow a variety of crops. The system deploys that information to operate the farm smoothly, from planting to harvesting. About 70 people work at the Maryland farm, the company said. Their jobs entail different functions of working with the produce as it moves through the system, but not the manual work of seeding, watering or individually controlling lights or other growth factors for the trays of seedlings and greens. About 70 people will also be working at the new Pennsylvania farm.


“We are a new gold standard in produce. When you look underneath at what consumers are caring about, [it’s] pesticide free, local, freshness, safety.”

Katie Seawell

Chief commercial officer, Bowery Farming


The company’s farms are all connected through the BoweryOS, Sztul said, and the system automates much of the work of farming. It’s been a long journey to get Bowery to the point where each farm can be like a small factory, using calibrated technology and a controlled environment to produce pounds upon pounds of fresh, optimized hydroponic greens.