The Future of Urban Farming Looks Like a Formerly Abandoned Warehouse in Compton

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College. Send tips or pitches to and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

The Future of Urban Farming Looks Like a Formerly Abandoned Warehouse in Compton
Plenty Farms via Samson Amore

In the middle of downtown Compton, California, fresh produce is scarce. According to the Compton Chamber of Commerce, the city is both a food desert and also a food swamp.

Drive through Alameda St. or Rosecrans Ave., and you’ll notice that grocery chains are sparse but fast food joints are numerous: Jack in the Box, McDonald’s, Popeye’s, IHOP. With the exception of a Walmart Supercenter off Long Beach Blvd., I couldn’t identify anywhere else to get fresh produce, unless it was a small, local corner store.

Agricultural tech startup Plenty, co-founded in 2014 in San Francisco by chief science officer Nate Storey, aims to help the city of Compton access healthier food by installing complex indoor vertical farms in warehouses and industrial areas that otherwise don’t have farming land.

Plenty’s intricate vertical farming operation in Compton opened May 18. It’s the company’s second farm after a test facility in San Francisco and the largest yet—the farm produces roughly 20 times the output of the Bay Area facility, according to Plenty spokesperson Erin Santy. Once it’s running at full capacity, Plenty’s indoor Compton farm is expected to produce 4.5 million pounds of food per year on about 1% of the land a regular terrestrial farm would need.

Plenty Farms

Plenty’s connections with local grocers

The Plenty farm I toured in Compton was nearly 100,000 square feet and home to roughly 80 full-time employees — 30% of whom are local hires. And, unlike seasonal agriculture work, these locals can work at Plenty’s indoor farm year-round.

Right now the Compton farm only grows leafy greens (baby kale, baby arugula, crispy lettuce, spinach) with plans to expand to crops people want to eat year-round regardless of growing seasons. “Greens are pretty simple from a lifecycle standpoint,” Storey explained. “They’re relatively inexpensive to grow, there’s not a whole lot of risk because they grow really fast.”

Storey said that Plenty is working with local grocers in Compton plus big-name brands like Bristol Farms and Amazon’s Whole Foods to distribute its produce to their neighboring stores. It also recently inked a deal to sell its vertically farmed greens directly to Walmart.

Right now, Plenty’s produce retails at health food stores for about the same price as other organics but Storey said he hopes to see that price drop so more people can afford it. “Over the next couple of years, it's going to become cheaper to build our farms, and it will be [cheaper] to buy the land that can produce the same amount of food… and cheaper if you compare on quality,” Storey said.

How the robot-powered farm works

Walking into Plenty’s Compton farm, I passed by a chute pushing composted produce out into a bin in the parking lot. From the outside I caught a whiff of an overpowering smell of fresh spinach and lettuce, which somehow still smelled fresh despite sitting in the beating sun. The entire air around Plenty’s farm seemed to me to carry the scent of arugula.

Before touring the hydroponic farm, which is a large series of maze-like rooms filled with heavy machinery, I readied myself in what felt like a hazmat suit getup: Hair and beard nets, hard hat, goggles, coveralls, shoe coverings and plastic bags over them. Santy directed me to thoroughly sanitize my hands before we entered the facility – removing any lingering germs helps negate the need for pesticides.

Unlike other farming outfits which usually stack horizontal shelves of seedlings, Plenty uses metal pylons about two stories high to grow its greens vertically. Plant roots run down the long hollow center of the towers and the nutrient-rich water they produce runs off into a trough below to be recycled. Storey told me that Plenty uses about 90% less water than field-based growers—a clear advantage for Plenty, since it operates in a drought-stricken state and the Colorado River, California’s main source of water for agricultural operations as well as in other western states, is drying up.

When Plenty’s greens are ready to harvest, a huge bright yellow robotic arm brings the towers down from their hanging places on the ceiling, and harvests the greens to be packed.

Plenty’s indoor LED lights are staggeringly bright, and designed to mimic the sun’s peak output, around the clock. “The big problem in these farms is energy,” Storey said. “Plants will use a lot more energy than we give them, so if we give them more energy per plant, we’ll get twice the growth rate.”

But the lights aren’t even the most high-tech part of the facility. Most of the processes at Plenty’s plant, from planting seeds to watering them, cleaning, harvesting and packing them, are all done by robots with trained human operators wearing earplugs standing by to oversee the processes every step of the way..

Most of the robots Plenty uses were bought off the shelf rather than customized, Storey said. All of Plenty’s robots are made by Fanuc, a Michigan-based supplier. During my tour, Santy pointed out that Plenty’s engineers had developed special tweezer-like pincers as “fingers” for some robots tasked with sorting through produce. The size of these bots varies immensely from smaller mechanisms used to feed seeds into small trays and pack them down, to large armlike robots that move the large vertical farming towers with greens around the facility and harvest them.

“The ideal for us is to be able to buy things off the shelf, because it's cheaper and it's easier if someone else is responsible for the design and manufacturing,” Storey told me. “The vertical plane architecture is fundamental to who we are as a business because we can put way more energy and light into the system.”

Storey likened Plenty’s footprint to a soccer field: The goal box of the field would be how much land Plenty uses to produce the same amount of food as the rest of a typical farm’s land.

Samson Amore

The challenges of vertical farming

Even though Plenty recycles much of its water, the electric bill isn’t cheap. Storey said he thinks the overall agricultural industry has to invest more in tech to bring prices of equipment down.

“A major challenge for the industry is, they just expected to ride all of the gains from other industries, like LEDs. They haven't done enough internal investment, to kind of work out the ideal economics,” Storey said. This cost curve is steep especially as global energy prices continue to rise. “The amount of money that it takes to stand up farms is high enough that it's going to select for a few large businesses, rather than lots of teeny tiny competitors all over the place,” said Storey.“It's an awfully tough business.”

Plenty has raised roughly $1 billion to date, Storey said. Funding came from investors including SoftBank, Walmart, and One Madison Group. Most recently, Plenty raised a $400 million Series E round last January.

Storey said he aims to transition Plenty’s operations to renewable energy once it’s cost-effective. “Energy is becoming more sustainable at a pace that no one expected,” he noted. “We're betting on a future that's much more renewable than it is today when it comes to electrical power… We’re super concerned about power, it’s a major part of our costs.”

There’s indications that the vertical farming market is on the rise. Grand View Research reported last year that the global vertical farming industry is expected to grow more than 25% to $33 billion by 2030. And farms like Plenty’s are leading the charge, a separate study estimated North American operations make up 35% of vertical farming done today.

How the produce tastes

Being grown in a clean environment means no pesticides, so the greens could be eaten without washing and were both tastier and crisper than anything I’ve ever found at a grocery store. Those I took home lasted about a week.

I’m no professional food reviewer, and I’m also not typically one to eat greens on their own. But the sheer density of taste (and smell!) packed into a small leaf of arugula from Plenty’s farm was remarkable. I found myself eating handfuls of it raw. And as someone who’s usually a fan of dressing, I must add that Plenty’s produce really didn’t need it – a splash of lemon juice and a bit of fresh black pepper, if I was feeling spicy, was sufficient.

According to Storey, arid areas like southwestern deserts can especially benefit from farming indoors. “The world is entering a phase where the fields will become less dependable,” he said. “People will have less reliable access to fresh produce, in particular [as] fresh water is more scarce.”

Which is why Plenty is ambitiously expanding. It recently made a deal with real estate firm Realty Income for up to $1 billion in financing to build more facilities. The first investment from the investment will be $40 million dedicated to securing land and building the infrastructure for Plenty’s planned third operation, a strawberry farm that’s a joint venture with Driscoll’s and will open in Virginia in 2024.
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Image Source: Tinder

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Tinder is altering dating profile creation with its new AI-powered Photo Selector feature, designed to help users choose their most appealing dating profile pictures. This innovative tool employs facial recognition technology to curate a set of up to 10 photos from the user's device, streamlining the often time-consuming process of profile setup. To use the feature, users simply take a selfie within the Tinder app and grant access to their camera roll. The AI then analyzes the photos based on factors like lighting and composition, drawing from Tinder's research on what makes an effective profile picture.

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In wholly unrelated news, Elon Musk has announced plans to relocate the headquarters of X (formerly Twitter) and SpaceX from California to Texas. SpaceX will move from Hawthorne to Starbase, while X will shift from San Francisco to Austin. Musk cited concerns about aggressive drug users near X's current headquarters and a new California law regarding gender identity notification in schools as reasons for the move. This decision follows Musk's previous relocation of Tesla's headquarters to Texas in 2021.

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Top LA Accelerators that Entrepreneurs Should Know About

Los Angeles, has a thriving startup ecosystem with numerous accelerators, incubators, and programs designed to support and nurture new businesses. These programs provide a range of services, including funding, mentorship, workspace, networking opportunities, and strategic guidance to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas and scale their companies.

Techstars Los Angeles

Techstars is a global outfit with a chapter in Los Angeles that opened in 2017. It prioritizes local companies but will fund some firms based outside of LA.

Location: Culver City

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: StokedPlastic, Zeno Power


Grid110 offers no-cost, no-equity programs for entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, including a 12-week Residency accelerator for early-stage startups, an Idea to Launch Bootcamp for pre-launch entrepreneurs, and specialized programs like the PledgeLA Founders Fund and Friends & Family program, all aimed at providing essential skills, resources, and support to help founders develop and grow their businesses.

Location: DTLA

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

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Notable Past Companies: Casetify, Flavors From Afar


Idealab is a renowned startup studio and incubator based in Pasadena, California. Founded in 1996 by entrepreneur Bill Gross, Idealab has a long history of nurturing innovative technology companies, with over 150 startups launched and 45 successful IPOs and acquisitions, including notable successes like Coinbase and Tenor.

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Plug In South LA

Plug In South LA is a tech accelerator program focused on supporting and empowering Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in the Los Angeles area. The 12-week intensive program provides early-stage founders with mentorship, workshops, strategic guidance, potential pilot partnerships, grant funding, and networking opportunities to help them scale their businesses and secure investment.

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Cedars-Sinai Accelerator

The Cedars-Sinai Accelerator is a three-month program based in Los Angeles that provides healthcare startups with $100,000 in funding, mentorship from over 300 leading clinicians and executives, and access to Cedars-Sinai's clinical expertise and resources. The program aims to transform healthcare quality, efficiency, and care delivery by helping entrepreneurs bring their innovative technology products to market, offering participants dedicated office space, exposure to a broad network of healthcare entrepreneurs and investors, and the opportunity to pitch their companies at a Demo Day.

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MedTech Innovator is the world's largest accelerator for medical technology companies, based in Los Angeles, offering a four-month program that provides selected startups with unparalleled access to industry leaders, investors, and resources without taking equity. The accelerator culminates in showcase events and competitions where participating companies can win substantial non-dilutive funding, with the program having a strong track record of helping startups secure FDA approvals and significant follow-on funding.

Location: Westwood

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The KidsX Accelerator in Los Angeles is a 10-week program that supports early-stage digital health companies focused on pediatric care, providing mentorship, resources, and access to a network of children's hospitals to help startups validate product-market fit and scale their solutions. The accelerator uses a reverse pitch model, where participating hospitals identify focus areas and work closely with selected startups to develop and pilot digital health solutions that address specific pediatric needs.

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Disney Accelerator

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Techstars Space Accelerator

Techstars Space Accelerator is a startup accelerator program focused on advancing the next generation of space technology companies. The three-month mentorship-driven program brings together founders from across the globe to work on big ideas in aerospace, including rapid launch services, precision-based imaging, operating systems for complex robotics, in-space servicing, and thermal protection.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Growth stage

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🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

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Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.

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