A start-up called Bowery Farming is putting an urban twist on agriculture, raising leafy greens and herbs in a high-tech warehouse a few miles outside of New York City, and celebrity chefs are starting to invest.
Using a mix of software, cameras, lights and robotics, Bowery can control precisely how plants grow. CEO and co-founder Irving Fain says chefs love the company's systems because they allow Bowery to make customized ingredients for them, giving kale a softer leaf or arugula a more peppery taste, for example.
According to Fain, 1 square foot within one of these indoor farms is 100 times more productive than 1 square foot of arable land.
CNBC took a look inside of the company's first farm in New Jersey with investor and celebrity chef Carla Hall, who is the Emmy-winning co-host of "The Chew" on ABC. "I visited the farm and tasted the food," she said. "It moved from a concept and an idea that is sustainable to deliciousness."
Today, the company grows and sells its own brand of baby kale, butterhead lettuce, arugula, mixed kales and basil. Some are available in and around New York including at Whole Foods markets, and restaurants Craft and Temple. Both are run by Tom Colicchio, also an investor.
Fain thinks of Bowery's food as "post-organic."
"We grow with no pesticides, herbicides or insecticides, no agrochemicals at all," he said. "And we're able to grow 365 days a year, independent of weather."
Bowery isn't alone in its mission to feed the world without using as much water, energy or chemicals, to raise crops. Other indoor farming innovators like Plenty, AeroFarms and Freight Farms have also attracted venture capital.
Especially because the planet has lost a third of its arable land in the past 40 years, Fain said he welcomes all players in sustainable agriculture. The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization projects that by 2050, food production will need to increase by about 60 percent to feed the growing global population.
Bowery has raised $27.5 million in venture funding to build its indoor farms across the U.S. and to sell produce grown there to select restaurants and groceries.
Investors in Bowery include Alphabet's venture arm GV, General Catalyst, GGV and First Round Capital. But the company more recently attracted funding from a long list of culinary icons including Hall, Colicchio and Jose Andres.