{The Wall Street Journal} Farming Gets High Tech in Bid to Offer Locally Grown Produce

A crop of startups have emerged in recent years to grow vegetables on city rooftops or turn old factories into indoor farms. But their quest for locally grown lettuce is running into challenging business realities.

BrightFarms Inc. last year pulled the plug on a planned greenhouse in Washington, D.C., 10 months into the process of getting permits, and earlier exited an effort to develop a rooftop farm in Brooklyn, New York. FarmedHere LLC, which operates a farm in a former box factory outside Chicago, shut down for six months last August to revamp its strategy.

Building farms on city rooftops is “a foolish endeavor” because of the higher costs and the additional time for permitting, said Paul Lightfoot, chief executive of BrightFarms. The firm, which has raised more than $25 million in equity and more than $15 million in project finance, is now focusing on greenhouse farms in locations outside of urban centers.

“You would scale very slowly, and waste investors’ money,” Mr. Lightfoot said of city projects. The cost for the Washington, D.C., facility would have been nearly 20% more than an $8.5 million greenhouse it instead built in suburban Virginia, he added.

Venture-backed for-profit farming startups have sought to reshape agriculture by growing crops such as salad greens and herbs in or near big cities. The idea is that urban farms promise year-round supplies of greens, with less spoilage and lower transportation costs than soil-raised produce from California or Mexico.

By Ruth Simon for The Wall Street Journal

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