Portuguese startup RAIZ is revolutionising how we farm and consume food￼
Our changing environment is demanding new ways of producing food. By 2050, it is predicted that 80% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. Conventional methods of farming will simply not sustain the amount of food we will need to produce. We therefore need to rethink our traditional farming methods and implement new practices that work in symbiosis with our natural environment. Portuguese start-up Raiz Vertical Farms has taken on this challenge by creating an urban farm that brings sustainable, healthy, and zero mileage veggies to Portuguese tables.
I sit down with founder and CEO Emiliano Gutiérrez to discuss what sparked the journey for Raiz and his vision for turning Lisbon into an urban farm, bringing food production to cities so that produce is closer to consumers.
Dreaming a new concept of farming into reality
The idea of vertical farming had been brewing in Emiliano’s mind since 2016. Inspired by local communities who erected vertical farms on building rooftops in underprivileged areas of the Bronx, New York, Emiliano saw the potential that urban farming could have for cities and communities. Locals were growing a variety of fruits and vegetables for people in the area, who otherwise would not have enough food to feed their families. In 2018, Emiliano met Raiz CTO Simon Szalai. Together they explored a new way of doing vertical farming that could be done fully indoors and in a more modular way.
Emiliano’s experience of working in renewable energy, focusing on distributed energy resources, provided a springboard for developing new methods of vertical farming to optimise energy consumption and production. Vertical farming consumes a lot of energy which will greatly increase as the number of vertical farms rise to feed growing global populations. Energy is a big topic in our growing world. Therefore, Emiliano and Simon brought together a team of experts around biology, technology, plant science and business development to craft a new concept of vertical farming, and in 2021 Raiz was born.
A Urban Farming Evolution begins
“In the next decade or so, monoculture and traditional methods of farming will simply not be possible anymore”, states Emiliano. “Depleted soils, flooding, drought, and biodiversity loss are becoming more widespread. However, these challenges also present an opportunity for us all to evolve - as farmers, consumers, and the whole supply chain from start to finish. By implementing regenerative and sustainable practices of farming we can create a new relationship with our environment and the way we produce food.”
Raiz is the first vertical farm in Portugal to use a hybrid energy model. Combining natural sunlight, LEDs, and solar panels, Raiz has developed a modular system based on the principles of circularity, community and scalability. Through the implementation of environmental control systems, Raiz regulates the growing atmosphere’s temperature, humidity, light and CO2, creating optimal conditions for the development of plants. This innovative design harnesses the latest technology from around the world to grow fresh clean greens, with very little water.
Decarbonising cities and giving back to the community
Raiz is creating a self-sustaining ecosystem with their hybrid farming model. Using Portugal’s abundant supply of sunshine to power their LED systems with solar panels, Raiz is actually generating a surplus of energy at times. The idea is to store this excess energy into batteries, which could then be used for other purposes on their farms and for the community. They have also started capturing water from the dehumidifier and AC systems, which will be used for watering plants in the area. Down the line they are looking to implement more water capturing and reusing methods with the vision to create an autonomous and circular urban farming structure that can work in symbiosis with the community and natural environment.
Vertical farms are also an ideal solution to help de-decarbonise cities. By growing produce in urban areas, Raiz is avoiding the emissions that usually come from a long supply chain from packaging, plastics, storage, to distribution and maintaining produce in supermarkets. Raiz is literally producing food with zero mileage because it grows where people are consuming it. Raiz’s vertical farms are also using 90 - 95% less water compared to traditional agricultural practices. With increasing water shortage, it will become a required practice to use water resourcefully.
Merging regenerative farming with a climate neutral blockchain
In their quest to keep finding the best and most innovative solutions, Raiz’s team are looking to bridge the gap between the physical and the digital by partnering with NEAR Protocol, a scalable and carbon-neutral blockchain protocol. By leveraging NEAR Protocol’s technology, Raiz is going to boost its ecosystem development and adopt innovative solutions to push the boundaries of regenerative finance.
To begin with, Raiz minted NFTs on Mintbase linked to rare plant species grown by Raiz. Through NFTs, Raiz will enable its members to own the genesis plant/seed and hold it as a commitment to sustainability. Next, Raiz will launch its DAO to develop a network of suppliers, stakeholders, partners, and consumers to facilitate the funding of green initiatives in the crypto space, in addition to facilitating processes of traceability in their supply chain.
Raiz also wants to implement clever token economics that will enable its community to access yield farming opportunities and increase the value of its DAO treasury by accessingReFi products such as Carbon Credits Through its integration with NEAR, Raiz will open up new possibilities for its community and for the NEAR ecosystem at large by fostering financial activities that create healthy and equitable social-environmental systems
Exciting new plans on the horizon
Raiz’s new flagship farm is opening its doors in Arroz Studio, in the upcoming district of Beato, on 2 July 2022. The plan for their Concept Farm is to hold workshops where they can educate communities and schools on how to plant seeds from germination to final harvest. They will also hold harvesting events where people can harvest their own plants and directly experience harvesting what we grow. Raiz will be like a community hub where people can come and share experiences, have fun with ingredients and taste fresh produce, learn from the Raiz team, and explore what farm to fork really implies in sustainable farming.
Their vision is to become a vertical farming platform to empower people and farmers worldwide where communities, regardless of whether they are farmers or not, can launch their own sustainable production farms. Communities will be able to use their own resources and adapt Raiz’s know-how and technology to fit their own environment.
Starting in Beato, the new creative hub in old industrial Lisbon, Raiz will breathe life back into obsolete and underused spaces and create an interconnected system of farms. This will bring the production of vegetables and fruits closer to locals, thus reducing the impact associated with transport and waste, and initiating a real food revolution.
Raiz will launch its flagship store at Arroz Studio on 2 July 2022, at 18:00. Come and learn about hydroponics, Refi (Regenerative Finance) and connect with conscious and like minded people. (See event details here: Eventbrite).