Cover The indoor farm of The Vegetable Co.

This enterprising agricultural startup relies on cutting edge tech to grow their vegetables sustainably

The industrial heart of Sunway Damansara is the last place you’d think to discover a vegetable farm. Yet nestled amongst the buzzing shop lots and warehouses, blossoming silently as an exotic rose in a desert oasis, is an unexpected spot of green.

Welcome to The Vegetable Co. the harvest-to-table startup set up in an old shipping container, utilises tech-based, modern indoor farming techniques to grow leafy greens for everyday consumption.

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Established early last year, it was inspired by the musings of its co-founders, Shawn Ng and Sha GP. The environmentally conscious duo was deeply concerned about the impact of climate change on local agriculture, so much so that they decided to do something about it.

“We wanted to create practical solutions that can produce food where it is needed while being independent of climate change. Unpredictable weather conditions lead to erratic crop yields. A rice yield can drop by five to six per cent with every one-degree increase in temperature,” Ng explains.

Sha adds: “We focus on pesticide-free vegetables at their freshest. We can confidently say that we deliver our vegetables to our customers within three hours from harvest. Everything we do work towards our goal of delivering plants of the highest quality in the most sustainable manner."

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The Vegetable Co. is currently run by a team of 10, consisting mostly of young talents with big dreams of the future. Sha and Ng admit to having little farming knowledge in the beginning, but that didn't daunt them. It is this combination of grit, determination and thinking out-of-the-box that helped their business to thrive.

The unassuming exterior belies a lush belly of a vertical farm populated with rocket, arugula, lettuces and basil in neatly assembled rows, stacked all the way to the ceiling. Greens can also be seen coiling around wall-mounted trellises.

The farm adopts stringent safety and hygienic precautions. Anyone entering is required to don full personal protection equipment (PPE) and go through a decontamination chamber.

“Our farmer's plant, care and harvest vegetables in the same way as conventional farmers but our methods are optimised with the aid of technology. Our in-house tech team is constantly innovating and developing new technologies to optimise how we farm,” notes Sha.

“We had to develop and deploy some pretty complex systems in order to monitor and control all of this. The Internet of Things (IoT) and automation play a big role as well, as our planting and growing is controlled and optimised by software.”

For instance, custom LED lights were developed after extensive research and trials that involves over 14,000 plants. Hydroponics deliver precise amounts of nutrients to the crops, and the temperature is closely regulated by air conditioning.

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The duo chalks up their tech prowess to the specially-developed Controlled Environment Agriculture Method (CEA). Their FutureFarmsOS system also controls all the variables of plant growth, allowing them to grow optimal quality plants in the most efficient and therefore, sustainable ways.

The vertical layout of the farm also allows for considerable saving in space—in fact, it requires a whopping 95 per cent less land than traditional farming. The hydroponic system also conserves about 90 per cent more water, which aids in preventing eutrophication or over-accumulation of nutrients.

The Vegetable Co. is partially powered by renewable energy but is gradually moving to complete use of it. The company also practises subscription plans utilising durable and reusable boxes to reduce single-use plastics and encourage box returns.

Another benefit of their sustainable farming? After harvest, the vegetables can last up to two weeks in the right conditions.

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Sha and Ng plan to diversify into growing other types of vegetables and even fruits in future.

“We need to address sustainability and food security now before the situation gets too dire. Working sustainability into a business is a tough and long journey but we tackle challenges in fun and innovative ways,” Ng enthuses.

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  • VideographyGoh Kwee Jin
  • PhotographyImran Sulaiman
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