In early 2021, the Contain team welcomed Cultivatd as a new vendor. Cultivatd is a team of vertical farming brokers that can manage and design an indoor farming project from start to finish–completely free of cost to the farmer. Cultivatd works with a wide range of industry-proven technology partners to provide the best fit for a project’s needs. In addition to facilitating technology partnerships, Cultivatd offers farming guidance, design consulting, and lending and leasing services supported by Contain.
We interviewed Cultivatd Co-founder and VP of Business Development and Sales, Eric Levesque. Prior to founding Cultivatd, Levesque and his co-founder, Eric Bergeron (co-founder of ZipGrow Inc), worked together at ZipGrow where Levesque led sales efforts. ZipGrow’s hydroponic vertical farming equipment was one of the early successes of the indoor ag movement.
Levesque and Bergeron pivoted the business model on its head (“1 product for many customers” to “many products for 1 customer”) and established Cultivatd in mid-2020 by building relationships with industry-leading vendors. When asked about this pivot, Levesque stated, “After we recognized that one of the biggest barriers to entry in the indoor agriculture space was a lack of product knowledge, we decided to start Cultvatd to make the industry more accessible.” Levesque noted that the transition has been pretty seamless given the collective wisdom and network the two founders had already established with ZipGrow.
Levesque and Bergeron have been surprised by how positively and quickly the Cultivatd model has been accepted into the indoor ag marketplace. Levesque stated, “in the month that we have been in operations publicly, the business has been overflowing with inquiries.” According to Levesque, most of the requests have come from people looking to start a small farm business, however, Cultivatd has also been working with large companies on extensive operations including two large projects in Europe and the Caribbean. Levesque affirmed that Cultivatd is attempting to “hit the entire spectrum” and be a one-stop-shop solution to every indoor farming venture, regardless of size. “We have experience as growers, manufacturers and product innovators and we use that to the advantage of our clients,” said Levesque.
Levesque and the Cultivatd team keep an eye out for new and innovative technologies in the indoor agriculture industry. When asked about emerging technologies, Levesque showed his enthusiasm and interest in Grov technology. Grov vertical farming is an advanced indoor farming technique intended for animal feed. Feed represents just under a fifth of total beef production costs★ and its availability and price is highly dependent on weather and resources, making vertically grown feed an attractive and reliable option for ranchers.
The environmental impact of growing animal feed is large. According to a study by Cornell University, grain production for animal feed requires 3.3 kcal of fossil fuels for each kcal of protein produced. In the US alone, more than 302 million hectares of land are devoted to feed for livestock, and scientists estimate that the country could feed approximately 800 million people with the land and grain intended for animal feed. With this indoor-alternative to traditional grain farming, Grov technology has the potential to lower the climate impacts of animal agriculture and help feed more people.
When asked to describe current trends in the indoor agriculture industry, Levesque noted that the space has been teeming with people leaving their 9 to 5 jobs in search of a meaningful way to invest in their communities. These novice farmers come to Cultivatd to help get their operations up and running. Levesque anticipates an influx of large corporations will attempt to enter the space, but predicts that smaller community farms will continue to dominate.
Cultivatd has big aspirations, and they have been lucky enough to exceed their expectation after only one month of operations. Cultivatd hopes to broker all agricultural technology partnerships and equip anyone who aspires to join the industry with the proper tools and education to succeed.
★Source: USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service; USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service; USDA, Economic Research Service.