John Purcell is Thinking Vertically about Growing Food





John Purcell is on a mission to make vertical farming work, with his startup Unfold.ag leading the way with research into seed and tech adapted for the unique challenges and opportunities presented by growing healthy and delicious food so close to consumers. He’s appearing in the What’s Next in CEA (Controlled Environment Growing) session at Space for Food’s May 4 event - free registration is here.


What are you doing in your work?

I’m President and CEO of Unfold Bio, a startup trying to improve the food ecosystem with more sustainable, fresher, and better-tasting fruits and vegetables via plant varieties and tech specifically for vertical farms. We’re dedicated to providing seed and digital solutions for vertical farmers around the globe.


What prepared you for what you're doing?

I have visited with farmers on farms in over 40 countries around the world to provide solutions that work on the farm and provide value to consumers.


What's an indicator that a food system (or space habitat) is working for the people in it?

When consumers are delighted with the quality, convenience and affordability of their food, and the production system is sustainable, including economically sustainable for the farmer/producer, too.


What is the most interesting work going on right now in your area?

The confluence of technologies between modern biology and digital solutions. In California, I call it 'Silicon Valley meets Salinas Valley'.


What innovation outside your direct area is most interesting to you?

Predictive analytics to better anticipate market trends and future consumer preferences.


What problem related to Space for Food most needs to be addressed?

Bringing new innovations to the marketplace while maintaining a cost of goods position that allows access to affordable fresh produce for consumers and profitability for producers. Producing fresh vegetables and other foods in space to feed the humans there with the constraints of space travel can provide insights to do the same on Earth and vice versa.


Who is doing the most interesting work in your area (other than you, of course!)?

Automation and robotics companies dedicated to crop management, harvesting and packing of fresh produce.


What's your favorite food, space, or ag memory?

There are so many but here a few of my favorites - eating fresh tomatoes on a sand dune at a beach directly next to a greenhouse in SIcily; giving a talk to hundreds of farmers in a cucumber field in India; the exhilaration of an in-promptu hot pepper tasting event in Mexico


What inspires or recharges you?

Spending time in nature - our family goal is to hike in all 63 US National Parks. We are at 55 with 8 more to go.


CEA (Controlled Environment Agriculture), which vertical farming and Unfold.ag are a part of, is a big source of food and ag innovation today. Don’t forget to register now to learn from John and his perspective at the May 4 event Space for Food - From Vision to Reality. You can also follow John and Unfold on Twitter.