A lot has changed for a local indoor vertical farming operation growing microgreens and other edible plants in the old HP building near Fisher’s Landing.
Forward Greens, which switched its name from West Village Farm, is running a much larger operation than it was a few years ago. The rows of stacked trays of plants are closer together, both horizontally and vertically, the energy spent on lighting is relatively less, less water is used per tray, harvesting has been reduced and less plastic is used.
“We’ve changed as an organization quite a bit,” said founder and CEO Ken Kaneko
The company expanded into more than 140 Safeway and Albertsons stores in Oregon and Washington last month, which will make the product much more accessible to customers in more places at lower prices; the company has 11 products in its lineup.
When the pandemic hit, the company began to see an increased demand as more people shopped for food at grocery stores. It’s helped fuel the operation and led to the contract with Albertsons and Safeway, and hopefully eventually Kroger stores, including Fred Meyer, Kaneko said.
Two employees run the research and development for the company, but many more participate in the experiments that are improving the company’s resource usage and system efficiency, Kaneko said. The growing process is 22 percent faster, and it uses 50 percent less electricity on its plants.
The packaging has undergone some changes, too. The company used a “clamshell” type packaging at first, with a stiff lid and a tray. It then experimented with flexible plastic bags, which used 70 percent less plastic than the clamshells. But the company has issues with the image and perception of using the plastic bags, so it switched to a “tray and film,” which uses 50 percent less plastic than the clamshell.
The name change was Kaneko’s way of better reflecting the brand’s message, he said.
“We’re trying to move the notion of farming forward with vertical farming and sustainability,” he said. “We wanted customers to get an image that they’re taking the right step forward with our brand.”
Kaneko founded the company at the Vancouver Innovation Center, at 18110 S.E. 34th St., in 2018 as an alternative to traditional farming methods. His vertical farms use 95 percent less water, and 97 percent less land compared to outdoor agriculture, and being indoors means the company uses zero pesticides and herbicides.
The future of Forward Greens means opening farms in other cities in the U.S., and Kaneko said he’s eyeing other locations to replicate the success in Vancouver.
“We’re trying to create a template for other cities,” he said.