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138. Vertical Farming and Upstart University & ABLE ag market gardening software | Bright Agrotech | Dr. Nate Story
9th May 2016 • GREEN Organic Garden Podcast • Jackie Marie Beyer
00:00:00 00:55:15

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From Bright Agrotech Dr. Nate Storey is here today who doesn’t just make vertical towers but also includes farming education at Upstart University – small farms being the future of food… and market gardening software!

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Food Eiffel Tower Paris Ag Expo

When I was recently in Paris I met Kevin Morgan-Rothschild who had this awesome vertical gardening set up at this Agriculture Expo in Paris!


Bright Agrotech

And he connected me with the inventor of their systems from Bright Agrotech Dr. Nate Storey! Who doesn’t just make vertical towers but also includes farming education at Upstart University – small farms being the future of food… and market gardening software!

Dr. Nate Storey

Yeah! so we’re just a hop skip and jump away! We’re down here in Laramie, WY, pretty close to the same climate conditions, some a little harsher down here sometimes. We’re a company that manufacturers growing equipment and we exist to allow small farmers to grow small businesses

  • to serve their communities
  • grow food 
  • to make food a little more local and a little less centralized!

So decentralizing food production! That’s kind of what were’ about and the equipment we design is all really focused on doing that and letting smaller farmers make more money off of smaller pieces of land! Hopefully building kind of a new industry around that…

Well you know you’ve got m curiosity peaked!

Tell us a little about yourself. You’re from the Flathead?

My grandmother’s family basically from Flathead, around Flathead lake, the other side of the family is from Ennis, and scattered from Billings, Missoula,and western Montana…

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

A lot of my first experiences were in Montana, my dad was in the airfare, everyone was a gardener. Even though we moved around a lot, we always had a garden, there were 7 kids in my family, if you want to feed 7 kids veggies, you put them to work in the gardner in the summer, and you can a lot and you store a lot and the only way to feed a bunch of kids on an income that isn’t extreme is with a garden!

Some of my earliest memories are in the garden either with my mother or father, grandparents, pulling massive carrots out of the garden and being amazed! Night and day eating raspberries… and just basically grazing….

I think you and my husband have a lot in common, cause he grew up here on a ranch with 4 boys, and he’s always talking about his mom’s cookie jar was always full because you had to keep them full because they had to keep working on the ranch and he’s the one that does the canning and growing the food! I think you guys probably had very similar upbringings, and it’s interesting he was born in Cheyenne Wells, which is probably similar to what you are now, in eastern Colorado… 

I’ve been in Wyoming longer then anywhere else, I went ot high school in cheyenne, then I traveled for a bit, then I did my bachelors, masters, phd all in Laramie, here in town, and then I got married and had kids and I’ve been here almost 16 years…

You did all that in 16 years! It took me longer then that to just get my bachelors! I’ve been to Laramie several times going back and forth to Colorado and then working on the Indian reservation in Browning I’ve heard a lot about rodeo… that and road trips so some of that’s familiar to me… So how did you come up with the gardening green wall, was that with school? Tell listeners a little bit about your business.

Yeah, so  we really got started with vertical towers… vertical gardening …. farming towers, started as part of my research…I was going research in greenhouses where we were paying for everything… all of the costs were volumetric, so the volume to heat a greenhouse… we were heating a volume not a flat plane, your structural costs, you’re building a volume not a plane…

so I thought about growing on horizontal plane vs multiple planes and wondering if light was a limiting variable. That was kind of the baseis for my research and I developed the towers as part of my research… just because it’s so cold here and it costs so much to keep a greenhouse heated and its’ February and the wind is whipping at 50 miles an hour and that’s not uncommon in February…

It costs us on our greenhouses here, based on my calculations we were spending about 1/4 million btus an hour just to keep the greenhouse at 55-60º… so this is a real problem for us and for small producers who want to heat a greenhouse during the winter and you’re gonna have to do that here if you’re gonna have a small commercial setup … so the towers were our response to that, a way to cram a little more production into less space without increasing our heating costs… so that’s kind of where it started.

Upstart University farm networking and education

Over time we realized that a lot of people want ot farm but they just needed a little help… We started the Upstart University where folks could network, where they could network with other people in their situation.

It’s really hard to be a farmer, it takes a lot of 

  • emotional support as well as 
  • educational support and
  • physical support

and all these other things…

Upstart University – small farms being the future of food…

it takes a lot out of you, so definitely people is really important so we started USU… Upstart University which is our online learning platform, teaching people how to build small farms and how to get through the compliance work to sell your vegetables, and get crop insurance…

  • how to build small farms
  • how ot get though the compliance work
  • get started started growing your vegetable 
  • how to get crop insurance
  • get going faster

and how to these kinds of things, so we kind of started to build all these other things around the towers… 

how to help people get going faster, we laugh about it, it’s sort of gotten out of control….we wanted to sell towers and help people farm, we ended up with a little company with a lot of products around it and divisions around this idea of small farms being the future of food… it’s been an interesting ride…

Well, I love all of that and you a talked about a lot of things that haven’t been talked about on my show! Especially farming being lonely and a place where you would want emotional support besides educational support… I think we should go back to the beginning… because if people haven’t heard my interview with Kevin do you what to explain what a vertical tower is and how things grow in them…

IMG_4439 IMG_4435Vertical Gardens Ag Expo PAris

I was so excited I walked into the Health Food Store – Heaven’s Peaks Organics the other day and they were growing herbs right there in front of me in a vertical tower!

So,  we’re using a tower that I designed it’s called the zipgrow tower, it’s a square housing. It uses 2 strips of medium, it’s a fiber, a plastic fiber medium, it slides in there and the plants grow out of a slot in the face of that housing. It started with aquaponics, a form of hydroponics, where your using waste from fish and it’s dribbling down from the top of the tower, and it uses red worms, the red worms would be in there breaking down fish waste… it turns it into a giant living filter… that’s how we got started, a lot of people are doing hydro now.. 

It allows us to grow plants in a light weight form, and easy to handlezip grow vertical farming

folks can go online and just google

 zipgrow tower, because seeing it easier

The thing I loved is when I was in paris it was just like everything I like to grow and eat! So you’re doing this for farming?

Here’s the thing. traditionally people thought farming was a big thing and gardening was a small thing… if you were growing a garden it was smal scale… the concept of a market gardner is a new thing, it downplays the role of gardeners. We think that is the wrong way to look at it, that farming should be smaller and gardening should be bigger

number of people out there

# of people

Our hearts initially really for young people who wanted to farm, but with land speculation and all the things going on in the world right now, it’s almost impossible for young people to get into farming.. What if we could allow people to farm with a lot less land and get better margins

build a business around it

really what it means is blurring the lines between a traditional

we believe that farmers markets are gonna be populated by gardeners who have gotten a little bigger, not farmers who have gotten smaller…

ABLE Ag software

So originally we could set up small farmers or gardeners

grow in little space efficiently

  • supplying a couple of restaurants
  • grocery store

software to let small farmers get up and empower people

if we could help them organizing things on the

teaching them how to market their products, bage them equip to allow them to do on a smaller scale…there was an opportunities

any type of opportunity for people who had never had the opportunity to do any commercial production

ultimately the idea is to take gardeners and make them small farmers! 

I really think listeners are gonna love this, I think the majority of my listeners, are beginning gardeners, medium gardner are even some master gardeners but might want to get into farmer’s markets etc… and there are a lot of people who talk about the difficulty of getting into market gardening… what were you talking about

certifications and compliance stuff you have to do… all of the knowledge that you have to have to go from small scale to commercial

even we’ve been learning something about wen you have animals your not supposed to let your animals near your crops for 120 days… then when the guy came out to look at the high tunnels… I had never heard of them and I’ve tried to sell things at the farmer’s market very unsuccessfully but still. … and we’ve certainly gotten manure from other people…

Upstart Universtiy Table of Contents

There’s a lot of that info

barrier to entry for a lot of small growers

a little bit here and there

as you start to build more of a presence, you really have to be concerned with safety…

  • will someone sue me?
  • am IGAP compliment?
  • sales tax
  • the transaction
  • questions there that...