Agriculture sucks up too much water and energy. Irving Fain uses AI to make farming more efficient.

Agriculture sucks up too much water and energy.

Tom Colicchio's pick

Irving Fain uses AI to make farming more efficient.

As a kid, Irving Fain started small neighborhood businesses (snow shoveling, leaf raking). He later tapped that entrepreneurial spirit to launch CrowdTwist, a marketing startup. Now, Fain wants to bring cooler technology to agriculture.

Fain’s company, Bowery Farming, uses artificial intelligence to streamline the growing process. (Full disclosure: Tom Colicchio, who nominated Fain for the Grist 50, isn’t just a fan; he’s an investor.)

[pullquote image=”363926″ cite=”Tom Colicchio, chef & sustainable food advocate”]“Not only does Bowery use 95 percent less water than traditional agriculture, but they use absolutely no pesticides whatsoever; add in the fact that all of their produce travels less than 10 miles to the end consumer and you begin to clearly see the environmental benefits.” [/pullquote]

Bowery’s indoor, vertical farm uses a huge network of sensors to measure crop health. This technology is “the central nervous system of the farm,” says Fain, and adjusts how much water, LED light, and nutrients plants get. With that level of precision, Bowery can grow a lot more food on a lot less land without using pesticides.

Bowery’s leafy greens are currently sold at three Whole Foods locations and to a handful of restaurants, all in the New York metro area. Although there are growing fears in the United States about robots stealing jobs, Fain points out that demand outpaces supply for organic greens, and then there’s, well, those booming city populations. Bowery hopes to expand across the country and world (having a certain Top Chef judge as an advocate and adviser certainly won’t hurt). And, at $3.49 a box, robot kale is surprisingly digestible.

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The world feels pretty broken right now. That’s why we need Fixers — bold problem solvers working toward a planet that doesn’t burn and a future that doesn’t suck. For our annual list of emerging green leaders, Grist brings you 50 innovators with fresh, forward-thinking solutions to some of humanity's biggest challenges. Credits

Grist 50 Credits

Photo of Irving Fain: Bowery

  • Editors
    Andrew Simon, Amelia Urry
    Mignon Khargie, Amelia Bates
    Nathan Letsinger
    Project Manager
    Matt Grisafi
    Social Media
    Cody Permenter
    Video Producer
    Daniel Penner
    Executive Editor
    Scott Dodd
  • Writers
    Clayton Aldern Ted Alvarez Eve Andrews Vishakha Darbha Sabrina Imbler Nathanael Johnson Samantha Larson Katie Mast Amy McDermott Emma Foehringer Merchant Caroline Saunders Darby Minow Smith Katharine Wroth Kate Yoder

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Ready for more? See Grist 50: 2016