When I first met Chris Lukenbill in March of 2015 at Indoor Ag Con in Las Vegas, he was the founder of Fresh with Edge a Rochester, Minnesota indoor farm start-up utilizing Bright Agrotech’s well-known ZipGrow Towers™. As he handed me his business card I was a little freaked out by its texture. Upon closer view, it was one of those cards imbedded with small seeds so when soaked in water and then planted in soil, it grew wild flowers. Brilliant! Fast forward to June 2016, where I found Chris occupying the role of Director of Software for Bright Agrotech’s Able™, farm planning software initiative.
With an advanced degree in computer science from South Dakota State University, he toiled at various start-ups until landing at the Mayo Clinic as a senior analyst. Seeing the need for fresh, leafy greens in the Rochester area, he was motivated to establish Fresh with Edge where he learned the ins-and- outs of growing as well as how to sell what he grew. It was in 2012 when he met Bright Agrotech’s founder, Dr. Nate Storey, that a relationship was born. Without any reservations, Chris believes his experience as a grower has been essential to the knowledge-base and real-world experience he brings to Able.
When I asked how he came to occupy his current role, he stated it was a “natural fit” based on his history of working with Bright Agrotech and their focus on educating and helping farmers to be successful. Furthermore, he cogently shared in Able’s goal to establish viable software to help farmers with their most critical action – planning. As a grower he knew first hand his livelihood depended on accomplishing week-to- week tasks which relied on actionable pieces of information: like when and what to plant, when to harvest, which restaurants were to receive deliveries and how to account for the all-important revenue. Production estimates, planting schedules and revenue projections are the backbone of Able.
He further states that at the present time Able is 100% free for everyone. As more components are added the plan is to keep it free for hobbyists and only incur costs for features that would be used by larger, more complex commercial operations. The latter customer base consists of traditional outdoor farms, greenhouses and indoor (vertical) farms. Given the diverse set of needs this market requires, Able is being developed with a sense of “co-opetition” between IoT (Internet of Things) firms and up-and-comer Ag Tech start-ups like Agrilyst and CoolFarm, for example.
When asked where he sees Able in the next three to five years, his goals are straightforward: to continue to build a great team of developers (the Rochester area is chock-full of them, he notes), to integrate and engage with other like-companies and to expand upon the growing needs of a wide variety of farmers.
I’ve kept Chris’ old business card from our first meeting in Vegas and I’m thinking of “growing it” soon. I’m sure it will bloom and in this spirit we at Urban Ag News wish both Chris and his team of developers only the best of success and good growing for their clients. Plan on it.