Farm-to-table has become a familiar mantra to woo customers to try a new restaurant. urban Seed truly brings the concept to reality with the reinvention and revolution of growing, producing, and packaging food in Las Vegas.
The barren land on Wynn Road, a little over two miles behind the glitz of the Las Vegas Strip, is now producing food in its first two greenhouses with four more in the planning stages. A second facility is also being operated in Pahrump, Nevada, 50 miles west of Las Vegas.
“Urban Seed was created as engineering solutions for humanity. We like to say that it is a technology company at heart,” explains Las Vegas native Jared Krulewitz, co-founder and vice president of marketing. “We are not really farmers that started to get into growing systems but engineers that got into growing systems.”
Its team has designed and manufactured different methods including aquaponics, hydroponics, and its current aeroponics systems. It also applies other technology within the space including a patent-pending LED light for indoor farming. Instead of using soil, a medium comprised of organic compounds nourishes the plants. Insects are not a problem since the environment is controlled. Organic compounds control any pests that infiltrate the urban farm.
Aeroponics saves 90 percent of the water that would be used in traditional farming and 40 percent more than utilizing hydroponics. The closed-loop system recollects, filters, and distributes water.
The A-Frame structure used is unlike most vertical farms that incorporate a horizontal stacking method. Its unique design utilizes every square foot. Since Southern Nevada averages 350 days of sunlight every year, the sun is a natural resource to be integrated. Supplemental lighting, at a significant cost, is required more with the horizontal stacking method.
“There are multi-million dollar facilities back east, and the return on investment is very tough when you are selling heads of lettuce for around a dollar. You will have to sell a lot of heads of lettuce to make the investment back,” he explains.
The current food system imports food globally. According to Krulewitz, the average piece of produce travels about 1,500 miles before it reaches a plate in Las Vegas. Some produce grown in Chile has to go 5,600 miles. Krulewitz estimates that over 70 percent of the cost of food is to cover transportation expenses.
Due to shipment, produce must be picked before peak ripeness, and maximum nutrition is developed. For example, the tomato available at the grocery store is a beautiful red color with perceived firmness and plumpness but tastes like a bowl of water. As Krulewitz explains, chefs who get their produce from vendors around the world only have a few days to use it. The shelf life of produce grown at Urban Seed increases by two weeks. “Once you grow locally, it opens the door for so much more. The produce is picked at the right time. Since it does not travel great distances, a low-carbon footprint is being created.”
The localized food system is simplicity of growing nutrient-dense produce. Urban Seed’s business model is a low capital system. “It is awe-inspiring that a company like ours is doing all of the in-house design and manufacturing of all of our equipment,” he says.
All components of the A-Frame design used by Urban Seed are also manufactured in-house allowing for complete control on how the system is built. It was designed to be modular, made to scale to fit any parameter, and shipped anywhere in the world.
“This is a new industry, and we are excited to be involved with all of the movement going on,” he says. “We are trying to be a pioneer with our technology with low-cost and high yield.”
Since the founders come from an engineering background with decades of experience, Krulewitz believes plastics will be the future for packaging.
Vendors are currently using cardboard to ship produce around the world. As for cost, when a resort receives its shipment, it recycles about 40 tons of cardboard every two days. The venues pay millions of dollars to reprocess this packaging. While recycling is encouraged, it does leave a large carbon footprint. If a reusable and stacking method could be utilized, it would reduce the carbon footprint as well as costs involved.
One of the more common questions asked is what can be grown in the middle of the desert? Urban Seed tested over 100 different varieties of fruits and vegetables, and can grow 22,000 plants at one time in its 2,300 square-foot greenhouse in Pahrump. Only seeds that are non-GMO, pesticide-free, and chemical-free are used with a goal for Urban Seed to develop seeds eventually.
As for customized orders, “we have been gathering a ton of intelligence from the chefs around the city. Sometimes they want a baby-sized leaf or a variety at full maturity so we can accommodate them,” explains Krulewitz. This eliminates produce that is received that day that cannot be used in the restaurant and is eventually discarded. Krulewitz estimates that about 40 percent of edible food is thrown away.
The economic impact is essential to the company and, with the advent of urban farming, a local workforce can be developed. Opportunities for jobs include harvesters, greenhouse technicians, engineers, and drivers. The new urban farming industry stimulates jobs socially.
“I love giving back to my community in such a fruitful way,” laughs Krulewitz.
Selecting Southern Nevada for the first Urban Seed makes total sense to the founders. As well as being Krulewitz’s hometown, Las Vegas has developed into a culinary capital. On the Strip, there is an average of 225 restaurants per resort. According to Krulewitz, providing food that is currently being imported from around the world adds to the quality of dining for the hospitality industry. In fact, a label with “Grown by [name]” is prominently displayed for reconnection with food.
“Our mission is to change the way the world is fed and creating a while localized food system under one roof,” states Krulewitz.