<p class=”p1″><em>Media Credit: Alesca Life</em></p>
For many of us urbanites, the dream of eating a fresh-picked salad at the office is an elusive one, especially in China. Though one startup in our 2015 TechCrunch Beijing startup competition is looking to do just that.
Co-founder and CEO of Alesca Life, Young Ha, is no farmer, though a background in tech and a passion for food security saw him quit his job at Dell to pursue agriculture in the form of smart urban container farms.
“[Food security] will be a big problem for China if they cannot feed their billions of people and have to depend on imports from other countries,” he says.
Young’s concept is not entirely unique, though it’s certainly a first in China’s congested city centers. Alesca Life produces shipping containers that are modified with hydroponic systems, designed to house more produce per square meter than any other method. The systems are pesticide and herbicide free, and are almost wholly run on software, meaning each container requires no more than two hours of labour to maintain each week.
“Using Alesca Life’s solution, plants grow faster with the highest quality and freshness,” says Young. “Combining hydroponic cultivation techniques and advanced software management, it is also dramatically more water and land efficient than traditional field methods.”
Like other hydroponic systems, the shipping containers rely on LED lights and nutrient solutions. They are stacked in layers to maximize space.
“Nowadays, we see global climate change induced droughts, flooding and rising seas, leading to food insecurity. Increasing populations and crowded cities also exacerbate food security issues,” says Young.
While China’s overcrowded cities are a major driver for urban farming, Alesca life is also finding its customers in the country’s increasingly health-conscious growing middle class. “It’s safer because it doesn’t require using any pesticides and harmful chemicals,” says Young. “It’s not artificial all.”
The company’s high level of software integration has made it an ideal candidate for direct-to-consumer sales. In a concept video [below], the company shows how urban professionals could potentially order a pesticide-free salad from a shipping container located in Beijing’s busy urban center.
Currently, the company sells containers to businesses including hotels and restaurants. The team has also designed a ‘Sprout’ automation system, a smart connected device enabling famers to grow most kinds of leafy green vegetables such as kale, lettuce and fruit vegetables like tomatoes, strawberries, and cucumbers.
Direct competitors are primarily from the U.S. and Japan, including FreightFarms, PodPonics, and Growtainers. “They are also focusing on container systems,” says Young. “However in addition to a shipping container product, we have products designed for restaurants and homes to make urban farming more affordable and accessible to everyone.”