Making Urban Ag Happen in LA – A Gathering of Thinkers & Leaders

I recently had the opportunity to attend an event in Los Angeles hosted by urban farm start-up, Local Roots Farms. It was sponsored by the Larta Institute, Indoor Ag Con and Autogrow Systems.

The Larta Institute’s mission is “to energize the transformation of technology ideas into solutions that elevate economic opportunities and make lives better for people around the world.” And digging deeper,  the Larta Institute’s Global Ag Innovation Network (GAIN) is a national forum of thinkers and leaders in the agriculture innovation community that utilizes the network to stimulate the creation and implementation of solutions to pressing challenges across current food and agriculture value chains.

Dr. Claire Kinlaw of Larta Institute
Dr. Claire Kinlaw of Larta Institute

With over 100 of those “thinkers and leaders” gathered on a balmy October evening at Local Roots Farms, the Larta Institute is certainly capturing the essence of their mission. On this night, Dr. Claire Kinlaw, Larta’s Director of Agriculture Practice, moderated a panel of indoor agriculture experts which included: Nicola Kerslake of the well-known industry-gatherer, Indoor Ag Con and investment adviser from Newbean Capital; Kelley Nicholson of Autogrow Systems; and Local Roots’ co-founder, Eric Ellestad. Together they fielded questions from the audience which crossed a number of spectrums in the indoor Ag world, including everything from the safety of the plastic used in manufacturing NFT’s (nutrient film techniques) to grow plants in to inquiries from those seeking funding for their Ag start-ups.

Local Roots Farms Founders – L to R: Matt Vail, Eric Ellestad and Daniel Kuenzi
Local Roots Farms Founders – L to R: Matt Vail, Eric Ellestad and Daniel Kuenzi

Among the notable crowd was Henry Gordon-Smith (see the Association for Vertical Farming and AGRITECTURE), and a student contingent from Cal Poly Pomona’s School of Agriculture, led by Department of Plant Science professor, Eileen Cullen.

Local Roots Farms’ first container (now located with others at their new facility in Vernon, CA)
Local Roots Farms’ first container (now located with others at their new facility in Vernon, CA)

Claire Fox, Executive Director of LA’s Food Policy Council detailed their mission of acting as “a collective impact initiative working to build a Good Food system for all Los Angeles residents — where food is healthy, affordable, fair and sustainable.”

Claire Kinlaw relayed her pleasure and excitement at the larger-than-expected turnout, “This is about community justice – people want to know where their food comes from.”

Nicola Kerslake was even more vocal. “This is an awesome event with Larta getting it right in terms of the roles of government and economic development.”

Standing room only at Local Roots Farms
Standing room only at Local Roots Farms

Kelley Nicholson from Autogrow Systems noted, “It is exciting to see all the passionate people exploring Urban Ag… for years I have been supporting indoor farmers and it was great to get everyone together to share their experiences and expertise.  Working together, we will make Urban Ag in Los Angeles a real possibility!”

Kelley Nicholson (right) of Autogrow Systems sharing knowledge
Kelley Nicholson (right) of Autogrow Systems sharing knowledge

Eric Ellestad was energized by the “inspiring, diverse and robust crowd” and is “excited that Local Roots Farms is an integral part of the movement” bringing indoor agriculture to Los Angeles and beyond.

Local Roots Farms, in particular, holds a special spot in my heart, and I owe a literary shout-out to their COO, Matt Vail, as he was the very first person to allow me into their initial container for a tour back in late 2014. I remember meeting Matt at the KISS (rock band) restaurant, Rock & Brews in Redondo Beach (his choice) for lunch. I immediately sensed not only was this a smart dude, but that he was going to make a real difference in the world of precision agriculture and indoor farming. The container was housed in an industrial lot around the corner from SpaceX in Hawthorne and my pupils dilated upon entering the inner sanctum of butter lettuce bathed in pink LED lights. Indeed, time has proven me right in that Local Roots Farms has not only grown in employees and containers but they are also supplying produce to the likes of Tender Greens, SpaceX and Mendocino Farms, to name but a few of their marquee customers.

The key themes of this night were about community justice, bringing passionate people together for a shared cause, elevating economic opportunities and making the world a better place. In the view of many, myself included, this is what it’s all about. For this, you’ve got to love LA.  

 

indoor ag con logo autogrow systems local roots logo larta institute

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