Photo by Oishii
A pair of talented agri-scientists have developed a strain of exquisitely-tasty, melt-in-your-mouth strawberries that are putting a foodie spotlight on the capabilities of vertical hydroponic farming.
Hiroki Koga and Brendan Somerville are the masterminds behind the Oishii fruit company, whose flagship “Omakase” berries have become all the rage among foodies and New York City chefs.
The Omakase berries, which hail from Japan, are grown hydroponically, meaning they are cultivated in soil-less tubes of mist and liquid fertilizer in controlled, indoor environments.
Strawberries are one of the crops that take to large-scale hydroponic farming quite well, and since the red fruit is the most pesticide-ridden crop at the supermarket, being able to grow them at scale in controlled environments could be a huge benefit to ecosystems.
However producing these beautiful succulent berries, which can fetch $50 for a tray of 8, required a bone-rattling amount of work that involved getting the export/import licenses for Somerville and Koga to tote their ideal Japanese strawberry cultivars all the way from the Land of the Rising Sun to New Jersey, where they rented a warehouse for their vertical farm.
In a long profile by Fast Company, the pair detail how they were duty bound to this first wave of leafy immigrants. The conditions in the warehouse were manipulated to replicate the perfect Japanese alpine weather 24-hours a day—and sensors that monitored moisture levels, carbon-dioxide, temperature, and other factors would send alerts to Koga and Somerville’s phones if anything was out of order, sometimes sending them rushing down from their shared apartment to the farm in the middle of the night.
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Koga comes not only from a profession, but from a country, which values exceptional quality fruit, but while the Omakase are prohibitively expensive for supermarket-scale sales, his plan is to bring over other Japanese strawberry cultivars.
He just raised $50 million in Series A funding, to introduce more and more Americans to crops that are selected and grown for taste rather than shelf life or ability to travel for days on a highway.
He also wants to expand Oishii’s offerings to include grapes and melons, two other fruits the Japanese prize.
At the moment though, the team are very reluctant to expand their product line too fast and without the proper preparation. Like Tesla, they are entering into a market with the most expensive product, and hoping to branch out from there.
The superiority of the Omakase strawberry over all others sold in the U.S. has created quite a rabid following, and Koga told Fast Company that they plan to firmly entrench their super-sweet product in the high-end restaurant and gift-giving markets, wherever demand can be found, before entering any uncharted territory.
Photo by Oishii
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Venture capitalists have been predicting a big move inside to indoor vertical farming for years, but it hasn’t really gained traction as fast as the early pioneer investors and entrepreneurs had predicted.
This has a lot to do with the products they’ve produced—almost all of which are leafy greens that don’t require pollination.
Having solved the pollination problem, Koga and Somerville are ready to experiment with other fruiting bodies, that will hopefully re-ignite some of the earlier passions in this innovative food production method.
Dive down to the roots of the story with a mini-doc shot on the farm, below…
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