This company is using vertical farming in Los Angeles to help solve food challenges created by rising population

Wendy Coleman started her company, LA Urban Farms, with a mission to empower people to grow their own fruits and vegetables by utilizing vertical farming in cities.

Video Transcript


WENDY COLEMAN: It's so unfair that just because of where you were born or the family that you were grown into that you don't have access to healthy food. It's so unfair that so many children in school are actually starving if it wasn't for the free meals that they get in school.

It's predicted that in the year 2050, we'll have 9.8 billion people living on our planet. And 70% of those people are predicted to live in cities. And so we have to have solutions to be able to feed our growing population. And vertical farming is one of those viable solutions.

This garden is a great display of some of the things that we can grow. Here's broccoli growing right here. Look how big it's getting and how beautiful, from one little baby seed. And we have cilantro and parsley. Look, we got a little ladybug here, which is a great little beneficial insect which has come to see us.

My name is Wendy Coleman, and I'm the founder of LA Urban Farms. Our passion, our mission is really just to inspire and to empower people to grow their own healthy food. And we do that by using these aeroponic vertical gardens, which make it super simple and possible for us all to be 21st century urban farmers.

I had never even heard the term vertical farming before. And my daughter Jessica, at the time, was at NYU, creating her major all about sustainability. She talked to me about the importance of vertical farming and how it could help to feed our growing population. And so I thought, what if everybody's front yard was an edible front yard, instead of being ornamental. That would solve a lot of problems.

We just dove right in without any horticultural experience at all. And we actually started the very first aeroponic rooftop farm in a commercial office building in our city of Los Angeles.

On the old Google building in Santa Monica, we put 24 gardens on that rooftop, and it was the first of its kind. We started just going to local restaurants in Santa Monica and meeting with chefs and inviting people to come to the rooftop to see what we were doing and started just giving the produce away and sharing our passion and our enthusiasm for what was happening on that rooftop. And that's really how our business began.

So this is aeroponics. And aeroponics is just the process of growing plants in an air or mist environment without the use of any soil.

TARA COLEMAN: So this is the 20-gallon basin that's filled up with water and nutrients. We're going to build it up. The water on the base will shower up and shower the roots every 15 minutes off and on.

WENDY COLEMAN: And just like our cities that are growing up, these gardens are growing up. And so there's this opportunity to think about all these unused spaces that exist around us and how we can reclaim them to grow local, healthy food in abundance.

We start by using a little cube of spun volcanic rock, like this. And we plant the 100% organic seeds into this little cube of spun rock. And we place this little plant out in the sunshine every day for about two weeks until the roots start to show through. And when the roots start to show through, then it's ready to grow in a garden.

And the low-water submersible pot is bringing the water to the top of the garden. And on the way down, it's sharing all the roots of the plants like this one with nutrient-rich water. It's just recirculating over and over again until the plants absorb it or it evaporates. And that's how it can use 90% less water than traditional gardening.

There's just this very, very special connection that happens when you plant a seed, a little baby seedling, and then you nurture it, and you watch it grow into a full, mature plant that you can harvest and enjoy. There's a different connection that's been created because you understand the journey that it took to get to your plate. You taste your food differently. You appreciate your food differently. It makes you make better choices for your own body and for the planet as well.

The average bite of food in America travels over 1,500 miles before it reaches our plate. Most often, these gardens are growing right in the cities where people live. And so that means the food is not having to travel to get to our plate. So any time you can grow your own food, you're having a positive impact, not only on your body for eating food that's more nutritious, but also on the health of the planet as well.

We always feel so grateful to have a business that can have a positive impact. We do work with a lot of organizations that are helping people that are experiencing homelessness. And from the very beginning, on behalf of our family and our business, we donate food every single month to these organizations just to try and do our tiny part to make a difference because truly, it should just be a basic right.

It started with just three in our backyard and my daughter inspiring me. And then it has grown into having them all over the world. But I think it's so important to think about the why. And the why really is that we can offer one solution to be able to feed our growing population in a sustainable way, in a way where we can grow food right in the cities where people live so that food's not having to travel, in a way where we can use 90% less water to grow food.

They're very scalable. It's super simple to go from one garden in a backyard to 10 at a restaurant and to 100 in a greenhouse. These gardens make it possible for us all to be 21st century urban farmers. You can grow in places where you couldn't have grown before. Think about rooftops and parking lots and balconies and patios and terraces. We can grow food right now in those unused spaces.

And it's really a story of farm to table because this really-- now with this technology, we can literally bring the farm right to the table. And the possibilities for where you can grow your own food are endless now.