Raiz – Growing greens in the middle of the city

 In Agriculture, Green economy, News, Start-Up

With inflation pushing up the average supermarket shop to 15% since the pandemic, one
innovative and sustainable startup – Raiz – has a sustainable answer: vertical farming.

Text: Chris Graeme Images: Raiz

For my grandfather, growing the family’s veg on allotments at the bottom of the garden was a
completely normal horticultural pastime.
Living in rural Wiltshire, England, and bringing up a family of four during the depression and then war years of the 1930s and 1940s meant every square metre of land counted. ‘Digging for Victory’ was the slogan of the day, in an era before we mindlessly consumed our free time with TV and online streaming, retail therapy, cocktail bars and fitness classes.
But times are getting tough again, with soaring food inflation and a lot of urban space in and
around our own homes and offices woefully underemployed.
Not anymore; welcome to Raiz, the vertical farming evolution that promotes the cultivation of high-quality and clean crops at your table year-round, which are produced in communities, for communities and by communities.

Raiz’s concept is a mix of perspectives from different corners of the world, rooted in the food-energy-water nexus – three interconnected elements, whose sustainability requires integrated solutions.

The startup’s founders, Emiliano Gutiérrez and Lucía Salas de la Pisa, head the project based in Lisbon’s dynamic startup district of Beato. It is, for now, restricted to aromatic herbs. The aim, however, is to extend production to other parts of the city and other vegetables.

“These last few years we’ve seen how vulnerable supply chains are. Across the globe there have been disruptions to these long chains, implying a rising dependence on local production and this is where we can make a difference,” explains Emiliano.

Crowdfunding campaign

Working in close cooperation with NEAR, the first blockchain platform totally geared to carbon neutrality, Raiz has raised €130,000 of funds through a successful crowdfunding campaign and bootstrapping (building a business from scratch without attracting investment or with minimal external capital. It is a way to finance small businesses by purchasing and using resources at the owner’s expense, without sharing equity or borrowing huge sums of money from banks).
Funds are raised by selling the produce and experiences to final customers; vertical farm setup fee; and farming as a service fee for corporates and B2B.
“NEAR is a leading blockchain protocol that has backed our vision to build a decentralised food system. It is highly scalable and easy to onboard web3 solutions, and is one of the first climate-neutral blockchains. NEAR is actively working within the ReFi (regenerative finance) movement. Its technology allows us to tokenise our farms and distribute value across our community,” says Emiliano Gutiérrez.

“Since the CAPEX for our farms can be high for local communities and the environmental impact difficult to track, we developed this innovation to increase the access and traceability of our farms. Blockchain, digital assets and community are tools that will empower the transition to a cleaner, more transparent and distributed food system.” Emiliano explains.

In addition to direct investment from NEAR through a grant of €100,000, vertical herb gardens are also being created in Non Fungible Tokens (NFTs), a way of making the process transparent for everybody.

Raiz’s first blockchain integration was through utility NFTs that can be exchanged for plants, amount to an environmental impact or represent a membership of the Raiz community.

“Our first NFT collection is minted on Mintbase. As a great platform for creators to build and launch NFT projects and stores, Mintbase allowed us to deploy our first PlaNFTs (utility NFTs linked to plants and hydroponic systems).

“Our vision is to build a tokenised ecosystem for vertical farming that allows us to finance and deploy farms by aligning monetary and impact incentives with expanding the network of farms as our north star. These fungible tokens will represent fractional ownership of the network and potentially appreciate as the number of farms increases.”

Ideal conditions for growth

It’s quite impressive on a guided tour of the vertical farm when you learn that just a few containers hold 9,600 plants including watercress, edible nettles, parsley, and two types of basil.

The founders and their team of 10 from different countries and professional backgrounds carefully create the ideal conditions for herbs to grow in terms of temperature, light, and a watering system that can be controlled via a mobile phone. The water itself is enriched with nutrients and minerals through a process called eutrophication to boost plant growth, as well as using a system of vertical planters in a circular system.
The whole greenhouse operation is powered by 10 solar panels – solar batteries will soon be able to store electricity during the night and even be used by neighbouring projects within Arroz Estudios, a complex of other offices and studios shared by other startups – while a system of LEDs in the greenhouse (actually there is something quite white and space-age about it) also fosters plant growth.

Cultivation is also supported by a germination room, a kind of maternity hospital for seedlings and cuttings to be nurtured for the first two to three weeks of development.
With this bold experiment, which Emiliano calls ‘community greenhouse technology’ because it has a local dimension, Raiz plans to grow its business.
“We want to make use of all urban spaces that are not being used and convert them into urban vertical farms,” he says.
“Our Concept Farm has a hybrid model combining natural light and LEDs, vertical farming and solar energy. What we are doing is building a network of distributed farms in underused spaces in city centres,” says Emiliano.
The expansion plan includes an equity fundraising round and the deployment of new, more efficient vertical farms on to Spain, Italy and beyond.
Vertical farming is not exactly a new concept. There are companies in Australia, the US, Far East and colder climes such as the UK that have been growing herbs such as basil, chives, coriander, dill, lavender and lemon balm for decades.

Emiliano says that the unique value propositions that makes Raiz innovative and unique are that they are developing a decentralised network of vertical farms that transform underused urban spaces into food production and experience hubs. Its technological integration is different for several reasons.
Through its hybrid energy model, they can save over 33% of energy compared to other vertical farms. This is key as the main issue facing the industry is energy use, both due to cost and associated emissions.

“Our crop scientists will grow nutrient- and protein-dense veggies such as peas and lupine and we are a user-centric company, connecting with our end consumers through experiences at the farm, targeted distribution spots and active, empathetic community engagement,” he says.

“We are on the way to become the first company that tokenises farms and integrates them with blockchain technology, allowing us to increase both transparency of our value chain and financing opportunities for communities to fund their own farms through tokens,” Emilano concludes.