Cameron Grant thought he would work in the crop fields of California when he started studying vegetable production at Texas A&M University. 

Then he saw the downsides of the industry.

“I saw … the amount of pesticides that are used on our production, and then the amount of water that goes into it, the amount of fertilizers and chemicals,” Grant said. “And it’s just not a sustainable practice.” 

Instead of fields, Grant now monitors nutrients, growing conditions and lighting of leafy greens on robotic vines that ascend to the ceiling of a greenhouse. 

“You can control everything, so you can kind of create the perfect environment,” Grant said.

As an assistant grower at Eden Green Technology in Cleburne, Grant is working in the burgeoning industry of vertical farming: crops that are grown in vertical rows instead of across fields. 

Businesses and nonprofits alike see potential in the North Texas vertical farming industry as a strategy to boost the local supply chain and grow large amounts of leafy greens in minimal amounts of space. However, leaders in the burgeoning field are still trying to figure out how to limit their energy footprint and maximize profits. 

Vertical farming is predicted to reach a global market size of more than $24 billion by 2030, according to a report by Allied Market Research. 

Advocates for vertical farms say the advantage of their industry is the amount of food they can grow in a concentrated area and controlled environment. 

Eden Green claims its two-acre, $45 million greenhouse will glean 1.8 million pounds of vegetables. 

The largest vertical farming company, Bowery, is also constructing a farm in Arlington that is scheduled to open next year. A company spokesperson said the facility is expected to serve million of people in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in a 200 mile radius and sell to 1,400 retail and e-commerce stores across the country. 

Eddy Badrina, CEO of Eden Green, admits that they are newcomers to the food industry. But he said vertical farming businesses like his are trying to solve price and supply chain problems. 

Most of the nation’s greens come from two places: the Salinas Valley in California and Yuma, Arizona. This year’s historic drought in the Southwest has driven up prices, Badrina said.

“I’m not doing anything to the farmer that’s not already happening to them,” Badrina siad. “I’m trying to make it more affordable for the rest of it because that farmer is going to pass on those increased prices.” 

The travel time from farm to store also means the greens have less shelf life, Badrina said. Since his greenhouse is close to distribution centers, he estimates the vegetables last 21 days.

There’s still some challenges to indoor farming operations, including the most difficult obstacle — figuring out a path to profitability. 

Vertical farms use 38.8 kilowatt-hours of energy per kilogram of produce, compared to 5.4 kilowatt-hours with a greenhouse, according to a 2021 Global CEA Census report. 

Farms such as Bowery and Eden Green are using all renewable energy sources or a combination of sunlight and lights in a greenhouse setting. 

Bowery exerts confidence that the company can be profitable. It is running on a portfolio of more than $1 billion in equity. A company spokesperson said Bowery is on track to double its revenue in 2022.

“(The Arlington farm) will expand our reach and ability to be a reliable and sustainable source of local produce for more communities,” Irving Fain, Founder and CEO of Bowery Farming said in a statement. “We’re leading the next generation of agriculture, and this new location further accelerates our momentum.”

Food for the people

It’s not just companies that are eyeing the idea of farming upward. 

As the Tarrant Area Food Bank looks to build its agriculture hub to improve the speed of its produce distribution, staff are also dipping their toes into vertical farming. They want to turn a three-acre piece of land in the Stop Six neighborhood into a vertical farm operation. 

The food bank is in early talks with Texas A&M to partner together so students can conduct research on the farm and bank volunteers can collect and distribute food to the community. 

Tejas Rane, vice president of innovation and integration at the Tarrant Area Food Bank, sees the potential. When he worked for vertical farming company Fifth Season, he said they could grow 3.2 million pounds of food. 

However, Rane said energy is a limitation. Running an indoor operation and creating perfect growing conditions requires tremendous amounts of power. Because some crops take more energy than others to grow, it affects what they will grow inside the building, Rane said.

“For what we were doing … we’re not going to invest that kind of funds into growing something that’s not going to serve the neighbors in a way where it’s actually valuable to them,” he said. 

Julie Butner, president of the Tarrant Area Food Bank, said the interest in vertical farms comes from the desire to feed the community’s 500,000 people. Plus, vertical farming is more reliable than growing in a community garden at the mercy of Mother Nature. 

“You’re not worried about what happens if we don’t get enough rain or what happens if it’s over 100 degrees for 60 days, your crops die out,” Butner said. “And so you’re not subjected to environmental elements that keep you from producing good food.”

Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.

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Seth BodineBusiness Reporter

Seth Bodine is the business reporter for the Fort Worth Report. He previously covered agriculture and rural issues in Oklahoma for the public radio station, KOSU, as a Report for America corps member....