The decades-old war on drugs had an unintended but positive impact on today’s rapidly growing cannabis industry. Many popular cannabis strains would not exist if growers had not been forced to hide their small operations indoors in backrooms, attics and closets. Over time, indoor grow rooms evolved into environmentally controlled growing operations. In many ways, these operations became R&D incubation centers for the businesses emerging in today’s cannabis industry. The problem is that grow operations still tend to be small and not easily scalable in a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way.
Indoor Harvest is a company addressing the challenges growers face when they need to increase yield while remaining conscientious of their environmental footprint. The company’s mission is to bring next-generation vertical farming solutions and aeroponic designs to the cannabis industry, while also focusing on customization to reduce costs. Vertical farming is a crop cultivation system that uses vertically-inclined or stacked growing surfaces. It enables growers to addresses both land use and climate challenges by optimizing space and creating a stable growing environment.
Indoor Harvest’s CEO, Chad Sykes, recognizes the potential of the cannabis industry to become a model for sustainable growing practices, noting, “The industry we serve is only just now gaining traction. We are at the cusp of a new era in agriculture as concerns over the environment and sustainability take center stage.”
Employing its high-tech greenhouse methods, such as modern hydroponic and aeroponic technologies, Indoor Harvest is showing the potential to increase quality and availability of ecologically safe cannabis. Indoor farms, in general, can improve urban accessibility to fresh harvests, despite existing environmental barriers such as a region’s climate or humidity, while also contributing to lower shipping and handling costs and less spoilage. Specifically, Indoor Harvest offers innovative and efficient “green” solutions in the following ways:
- Its vertical farming technologies dramatically reduce the need for water and land usage.
- High-pressure aeroponics (HPA) delivery helps plant roots absorb minerals and nutrients, so there are reductions in fertilizer and water runoff.
- HPA has been shown to increase the growth rate of plants.
- The technology does not require soil, coco medium or rock wool.
To bolster the company’s offering, Indoor Harvest also has an incredibly forward-thinking design strategy. Recognizing the potential to move the indoor crop cultivation equipment industry away from offering all-in-one units that are limited by their inability to scale up, it offers a customized-design and modular-based solution. When asked what differentiates the company’s design, Sykes said, “Our technology is not pre-engineered. We offer individual components that can be mixed and matched to create a fixture-based program.”
Indoor Harvest provides growers with design and expertise to use commonly available building materials such as plumbing fixtures, scaffolding, and electrical systems, bolstered by its highly specialized aeroponic components customized to the needs of a given crop. This customization and technology work together to increase yield and address different needs depending on strain, regional climate and budget.
This history of Indoor Harvest is as unique as its offering. Sykes came to the business with a distinctive skillset and a curious fascination. Recalling his life-long fascination with building things, “especially high-powered things,” he recounted his experience as a plumber and project manager; his work in large-scale mechanical work for independent contractors; his active duty in the military; and his work in investor relations before spearheading Indoor Harvest. Ultimately, he said, “I took the mechanical side of my life and applied it to the finance side. Aeroponics began as a hobby, but when I saw what was happening in vertical farming I became interested.”
Fascinated with vertical farming’s ability to transform agriculture, Sykes began dedicating himself to R&D in 2011. What began as a hobby in a garage soon attracted attention. Sykes was approached by MIT to work on its CityFARM project, a deep examination of the potential of urban food growth through hydroponic, aquaponic and aeroponic production systems to reduce agricultural water consumption, eliminate chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and increase nutrient densities delivered.
Work on this project propelled Sykes to move forward with Indoor Harvest and bring his knowledge and experience to the cannabis industry. He has since attracted enough funding to facilitate a new platform. Indoor Harvest is proving the significant impact vertical farming and HPA technologies can have on the cannabis industry today and in the future.
Accordingly, the company has a strong growth trajectory. On January 9, 2015, Tweed Inc. announced a partnership with Indoor Harvest to create a fully customized aeroponics system at its Smiths Falls facility, and this incredible partnership is indicative of the company’s growth potential. Looking forward, Indoor Harvest is focused on continuing to build valuable partnerships in the industry in order to continuously expand its portfolio of fixtures specifically designed to address the industry needs.
According to Sykes, the company’s long-term vision is one of continued innovation through R&D investments and continued collaborations to “standardize practices, gain knowledge and develop franchised models for building-integrated agriculture.” The company’s ability to enhance the growing processes and reduce the environmental footprint of the cannabis industry is evident, but Sykes may have only tapped the surface of its potential contribution to cannabis cultivation technologies.