Meet The High-Tech Urban Farmer Growing Vegetables Inside Hong Kong’s Skyscrapers

Residents of Hong Kong, an Asian financial hub with 7.4 million inhabitants, faced a shortage of fresh food in February. As strict Covid-19 restrictions across China’s border severely disrupted new food supplies, shelves containing vegetables and other items were left empty in supermarkets throughout the city.

Hong Kong is a densely populated, highly dependent city with limited agricultural space. More than 90% of the city’s food supply, including fresh produce such as vegetables, comes from China, mainly from skyscrapers. Gordon Tam, a cofounder of Vertical Farming Company Farm66, Hong Kong, says, “During the pandemic, we all noticed that local vegetable productivity is very low.” “The social impact was enormous.”

On February 8, 2022, shoppers empty shelves at a supermarket in Hong Kong.

Tam estimates that about 1.5% of the vegetables in Hong Kong are grown locally. But, he believes that vertical farms such as Farm66 can help boost the city’s food production and export its know-how. Tam says vertical farming is an excellent solution as vegetables can be planted within cities. Tam spoke to us at the company’s industrial estate vertical farm. “We can grow vegetables, so we don’t need to import.”

Tam claims that he founded Farm66 with his cofounder Billy Lam in 2013 as a pioneer in vertical farming in Hong Kong. He says that Farm66 was the first company to employ energy-saving LED lighting technology and wavelength technologies on a farm. We discovered that plants could grow in different ways using different light spectrum colors. This was our technological breakthrough.” Red LED light speeds up the growth of stems, and blue LED light encourages larger leaves.

Farm66 also employs IoT sensors, robots, and robotics to manage its indoor farm of 20,000 square feet. This helps the company retain and recruit workers. Tam says that traditional farming faces a significant problem because there isn’t enough talent. Many of the remaining farmers’ children don’t want the farms to be taken over. They believe it’s very tedious work.”

He says, “But we can use automation to improve the working environment so young people will want to farm.” Farm66 employs 15 full-time workers, including data analysts, food scientists, and mechanical engineers. It produces up to seven tonnes of vegetables per month.

Farm66’s technology use, particularly its data analytics on light intensity and water flow, attracted ParticleX to invest in the company. This venture capital firm in Hong Kong that focuses on tech, was backed by billionaire Tan Yiu. Mingles Tsoi is chief exploration officer at ParticleX. “I appreciate that Gordon and his staff had done quite a bit of data analytics on farming mechanism.” “So that’s how we chose them as our primary target for investments.”

Other investors in Farm66 include the Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund and Singapore billionaire Robert Ng, the Hong Kong government’s Cyberport, and the Hong Kong Science & Technology Parks. It has raised over $4 million total funding.

Farm66 received funding from Hengqin Financial Investment in China earlier this year. It was also accepted into HK Tech 300 Angel Fund by the City University of Hong Kong, a program that supports startups. Lam, the cofounder, earned a bachelor’s degree as an applied chemist. The inaugural Forbes Asia 100 To Watch-list recognized notable startups and small businesses in the Asia-Pacific region.

Consuming locally is a more sustainable way to finish.

Mingles Tsoi is chief exploration officer at ParticleX.

Farm66 grows greens, herbs, and fruits aquaponically. This is a sustainable farming technique that uses nutrients from fish waste instead of commercial fertilizers. The plants filter the fish’s water, creating a self-regulating indoor ecosystem.

The company packs the produce and sells it to high-end retail shops, hotels, and supermarkets. Farm66 has also received requests from schools and private organizations to grow their food in small spaces and kitchens. Tam, a degree holder of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s master’s program in sustainable urban development, says that Farm66 provides farm-to-table systems for organizations to help them grow vegetables. “We promote urban farming and ESG principles to improve quality of living.”

Farm66 has worked with some of the best local banks. Tam says Farm66 plans to work with top local banks.

“People will be more aware of the environmental and social issues of importing things far from their location. It will consume more energy, emit more carbon, and cause more pollution,” Tsoi, director of ParticleX, says. Consuming locally is a more sustainable way to finish.

Gordon Tam, Farm66’s co-founder and CEO said that they are currently exploring new ideas for farming in outer space. “We were the ones who pioneered research into the future of farming, such as the possibility of growing plants in zero gravity.”

Tam, who completed his undergraduate studies at Washington State University in Washington, plans to expand Farm66 beyond Hong Kong. He also wants to export Farm66’s urban farming systems to other cities. For instance, Farm66 built a mobile farm out of a shipping container meant for desert cities in the Middle East.

Tsoi refers to the Greater Bay Area, a Chinese government plan that combines Hong Kong and Macau, the gambling capital of Macau, with nine other cities in southern China, into one sizeable economic cluster. Southeast Asia, where some of the most densely populated areas globally, could also be a potential market for Farm66.

Like billionaires Elon and Jeff Bezos, Tam is looking beyond the Earth-bound possibilities. He says, “We are exploring new ideas for farming in outer space.” “We were the ones who pioneered research into the future of farming, such as the possibility of growing plants in zero gravity.”

Tam adds, “We have many innovative farming ideas.” “We want to make the public see that technology and agriculture have a bright future.”

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Samatha Vale
Samatha a senior writer for HC's entertainment team. She is an entreprenuer, mother and an excellent writer. She's also an avid reader, music enthusiast and all around inquisitive person - which is just a nice way of saying she's nosy.

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