One of the first things you notice is the Toshiba logo everywhere. That’s because indoor farming isn’t just a fluke industry that someone here decided to enter. Toshiba already makes several of the components for its clean room farm, including lighting, water disinfection, power generation equipment, and tablets, which workers use to control the entire operation. It also, of course, operates clean rooms—this specific one had been dormant for many years. And it even makes the acid- and alkaline-water generation systems that everyone must use to wash their hands before entering the farm in special suits.
Why plant lettuce in a clean room? The obvious answer: Because it’s clean. Everything is tightly controlled, including air pressure, temperature, lighting, bacteria, and dust. The result is a crop that doesn’t need pesticides, doesn’t have bugs, and doesn’t need washing.
So, what they have done is traded soil, rain, and sun for a very elaborate pest control system that requires electrical light, water supply, a nutrient supply (as would a farm, but simpler).
I have to imagine that Toshiba has put some thought into all this, but aside from reduced risk e. coli poisoning, I’m not sure that I get the benefit. Sure, pesticides have an environmental impact but so does building a clean room growing facility lit by fluorescent lights (those bulbs don’t grow on trees, nor do they compost).
I also have to wonder about all the interest in these intensive urban ag operations. The only way to make them work at the cost per square foot is expensive greens and lettuces. Just how big is the market for expensive greens and lettuces? I guess we are about to find out.