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Vertical Roots’ innovation emerges

Imagine growing conditions when weather, disease and insects come as second thoughts.

Enter the enclosed, controlled world of hydroponics — farming indoors with vertical or horizontal root preparations.

The indoor farming involves nourishing roots by placing them in a liquid nutrient solution. There is no soil.

57096919 570957050064744 1523153492317831168 oTop: It takes a committed staff to nurture the Vertical Roots crops. Bottom: Vertical Roots keeps its plants in pods, in a controlled environment, growing indoors with nutrient-enhanced water channels.Hydroponics differs from aeroponics. With that practice, roots are sprayed with a mist solution.

One 3-year-old, start-up company, based in Summerville, SC, Vertical Roots, has just completed a hydroponics farm in Charleston, SC, which includes 24 grow pods and has started the construction of a farm in Columbia, SC, which will have more than 120 grow pods.

Hydroponic systems are touted for using up to 98 percent less water than traditional agriculture, and at Vertical Roots, the company aims to be as sustainable as possible.

Labor and maintenance are also minimized.

Vertical Roots grows leafy greens — green and red oak, Bibb, romaine, red butter and arugula.

“We consider ourselves to be the future of farming, so everything we do is innovative and focused on technology that monitors and controls our farms,” said Shelby Weimer, marketing strategist for the company.

The system has had its skeptics relative to scalability, Weimer said, but being on the ground floor of development has the company and team excited and optimistic.

“We truly feel that we have a model that will set us up for success,” Weimer said. “We are here to change the game.”

A key factor is turnaround time in distribution.

About 95 percent of leafy greens come from California and Arizona, she said.

“We aim to bring lettuce as close to distribution as possible, sometimes with a turnaround of 24 hours from harvest to table, compared to weeks on a truck,” she said.

In what she referred to as “hyper-local,” she said the company could distribute lettuce that is fresher, tastier and safer.

“We also want to provide the next generation of farmers with a sustainable living for years to come and open the ag-tech world to a new way of farming,” Weimer said.

In that sense, the company clings to a list of values within its mission. They are:

• Empowerment for every team member to have a voice.

• Precision in paying attention to detail.

• Fun, with a positive attitude.

• Consistency. Do it the right way, every time.

• Respect.

• Integrity, by being trustworthy and honest.

Vertical Roots also sees its role within the community as significant. It promotes the model within schools, in restaurants and in local businesses.

“We offer tours of our facility and educational opportunities to learn about our growing methods,” Weimer said. “As a company, we are focused on sustainability, so we try to educate our customers and community as much as possible.”

There is also a flair for philanthropy and zero tolerance for waste. The company donated about 7,000 pounds of lettuce to those in need earlier this year, and routinely gives excess to the hungry.

The company takes the future and innovation seriously as well, company co-owner Andrew Hare said.

“We never want to stop learning and growing, so at any given time we have a variety of test products in our panels,” he said.