Bowery Farming: Marrying AI with Sustainable Produce for the Kosher Market

Bowery Farming is a New York-based vertical farming company that is using proprietary technology to produce fresh, local produce year-round. The company’s farms are located in climate-controlled warehouses, where they use nutrient-rich water, and computer-controlled climate systems to grow crops in a sustainable way.

Bowery Farming’s vertical farms have a number of advantages over traditional farms. They use less water, land, and energy, and they are less susceptible to pests and diseases.

We spoke with Senior Marketing Manager, Lauren Bent.

OU Kosher: Can you talk a little bit about your mission?

Lauren Bent: Bowery Farming has been around for almost eight years now. Our mission is to democratize access to healthy food and secure the future of food. As a vertical farming company, we’re much more sustainable than traditional farms.

We’re about 100 times more efficient per square foot and can grow food near communities that need access to it. Normally, produce loses a lot of nutrients during shipping from the West Coast to the East Coast. By growing it locally, we preserve these nutrients and bring benefits for both the environment and the people. This is the core of our organization’s mission and vision.

OU Kosher: Could you tell us about your farms and growth plans?

Lauren Bent: We have several farms and we’re growing actively. Currently, we have a farm in New Jersey, one in Maryland, and one in Pennsylvania, specifically in the Bethlehem region. We’re also opening one in Georgia this summer and another in Texas by the end of the year.

OU Kosher: Do you still consider yourself a startup?

Lauren Bent: Yes, we do. We’re growing rapidly, and we’re in scale mode, but we still consider ourselves a startup.

OU Kosher: How does your efficiency compare to conventional farming, in terms of space and volume?

Lauren Bent: We’re significantly more efficient than traditional farms. We use less water and land, making us more efficient across the board for all resources.

OU Kosher: How do you deliver nutrients to your crops?

Lauren Bent: We use soil in small containers instead of growing directly in the ground. Machines move these small cups, which are stacked floor to ceiling with lights and water, through the system.

OU Kosher: How does AI factor into your farming process?

Lauren Bent: AI plays a crucial role in optimizing and tracking everything. For example, when you eat Bowery lettuce, you can trace it back to the farm and batch it came from. This approach brings technology to the forefront of food production. As climate change impacts society, we’re leveraging technology in a powerful, beneficial way.

OU Kosher: Are you growing the same crops at all your farms, or does it depend on the region or market?

Lauren Bent: We mostly grow the same crops everywhere. A few farms focus more on innovation, like R&D. For instance, if we’re trying a new sprout, we might test it at the R&D lab first, before scaling it across all farms.

OU Kosher: Do you sell your produce to retailers?

Lauren Bent: Yes, we are in many stores now, somewhere in the 2000 range. We supply Whole Foods, Fresh Direct, Instacart, Walmart, Giant, and others. We’re making a lot of progress with our retail partnerships.

OU Kosher: Is there consistency in your supply to these stores?

Lauren Bent: Yes, the technology helps maintain a consistent supply, and we’re not impacted by seasonal variations like traditional farming. For instance, we’re still growing fresh, high-quality lettuce in the middle of December in the Philadelphia area.

OU Kosher: Are you actively promoting the fact that you’re a vertical farm?

Lauren Bent: It’s a good question. I don’t think consumers would view it negatively, but many are still learning about it since it’s a relatively new concept. So often, it’s more about educating them about the benefits. Our packaging mentions that our produce is grown smarter and locally.

OU Kosher: What changes did you have to make to your process to ensure your products are bug-free and kosher?

Lauren Bent: We already have zero pesticides because we’re inside.

OU Kosher: How are you getting into these, as you call them, doors?

Lauren Bent: Our approach relies significantly on our sales team who converse with retailers. Moreover, our marketing team ensures that we make a strong impression as a brand when we approach these retailers. We emphasize having proper signage and activations to support those retailers we’re working with.

OU Kosher: Can you elaborate on what activation means?

Lauren Bent: Certainly. For example, we invest in programming like the Giant BBQ battle or Whole Foods. We might organize an activation at the store, such as a giveaway in the parking lot with our branded Bowery cart on Earth Day. We participate in numerous events that retailers host.

OU Kosher: Is sustainability a key theme in your marketing and presentations?

Lauren Bent: We do emphasize sustainability, but it depends on the consumer we’re engaging with because everyone has different priorities. When consumers are at the shelf, their primary concern is often the freshness and longevity of the product in their fridge. The stage of the consumer journey significantly influences the message.

OU Kosher: How are you communicating with consumers outside of the stores?

Lauren Bent: Outside the store, our message tends to focus more on how we contribute to securing the future of food. We highlight our commitment to sustainability, our efficient use of resources, and our ability to do more with less. We communicate this message through various channels like out-of-home advertising, digital ads on platforms like Hulu, YouTube, LinkedIn, and social media.

OU Kosher: Is kosher certification a significant factor when dealing with retailers?

Lauren Bent: Absolutely, it significantly aids us. We work closely with Kayco and we focus on key selling points like no bug checks and no need to wash when speaking to our kosher consumers.

OU Kosher: How are you working with Kayco? Are they responsible for distribution in certain markets?

Lauren Bent: Yes, they have a lot of independent retailers. Many kosher retailers buy through Kayco, so we have a close relationship with them. We support them with digital ads on, provide signage for stores, and supply material for independent retailers’ social media platforms.

OU Kosher: What are your expansion plans for the next year?

Lauren Bent: We’re planning to launch in Georgia this summer and in Texas by the end of the year. For these expansions, we often have to build our facilities from the ground up, since there aren’t existing facilities like ours.

OU Kosher: How far in advance do you build these retail relationships?

Lauren Bent: We start conversations as early as possible. Right now, we’re already initiating discussions with vendors in the South for our launch in early Q3.

OU Kosher: Do you market your product as kosher in these new markets?

Lauren Bent: Yes, being a kosher product is one of our key claims and a central part of our brand. We always emphasize this aspect.

OU Kosher: What message would you like to directly convey to a consumer?

Lauren Bent: We want consumers to know that our product requires no bug checks and no washing. They can enjoy it straight from the container. Plus, it stays fresh for a longer time. With our use of technology, we pick seeds for their flavor, instead of being able to withstand weather.  So you still can get kosher products that are still like extremely flavorful, fresh and kosher all at once, which is exciting.

OU Kosher: Yes it is.  And thanks so much for your time.  We’re looking forward to hearing about new locations and more innovation.