Fork Farms is upending traditional ideas about agriculture with its vertical indoor agriculture technology. Called Flex Farms, the technology means plants no longer need to be grown outside — or even flat on the ground.
The winner of the “Planet” Innovation Award, Fork Farms provides an opportunity for decentralized, local farmers to compete with specialty crops in both price and quality. Building farmers closer to where people live also combats food waste.
Founded by Alex Tyink, the company makes plastic hydroponic growing modules. Crops, such as lettuce, grow vertically without soil or sunlight. The system recaptures energy and optimizes a plant’s natural metabolism. The Menasha company achieves growth rates almost double traditional soil growing for a fraction of the cost. Fork Farms’ systems are installed near consumers so the food can be eaten at peak freshness.
The judges were impressed with the company’s potential to make an impact, which they called “transformational, not just locally, but globally.”
“It’s an innovative solution that’s scale-able and sustainable and they have the metrics to support it,” one judge said.
The Flex Farms technology came together after eight years of research. Tyink began researching his idea while living in New York City where he built rooftop and indoor gardens for schools and social service providers in New York City. The gardens created a feasible, cost-effective solution for nonprofits and low- to moderate-income individuals. This provided the unforeseen benefit of creating a product that was market competitive across a wide variety of sectors and applications.
Fork Farms partners with schools and food programs and pantries. When placed in schools, its vertical, modular indoor farming machine can include lesson plans for students as well as provide healthy food for them to eat.