How Plenty is Using Vertical Farms to Bring Produce to Compton’s Food Desert

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.

How Plenty is Using Vertical Farms to Bring Produce to Compton’s Food Desert
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.
🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
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🔦 Spotlight

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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Fuel Innovation: 7 Unforgettable Team Building Experiences in LA
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In today's competitive business landscape, team building activities have emerged as a crucial tool for fostering a positive work environment, enhancing productivity, and crucially, improving employee retention. Studies have shown that such activities help employees feel valued, with one report indicating that 93% of those who felt appreciated were more motivated at work. Importantly, team building events may improve retention rates, as employees who feel connected to their colleagues and company culture are more likely to stay long-term. With these benefits in mind, let's explore some of the most engaging and effective team building activities available in Los Angeles.


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Pickleball is a fantastic team bonding activity because of the easy-to-grasp rules and gentle pace make it perfect for everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. The game thrives on communication and teamwork, as players must collaborate and strategize to outplay their opponents, boosting team cohesion. Plus, the lively, fast-paced action sparks friendly competition and laughter, creating a fun and spirited atmosphere that brings everyone closer together. Los Angeles boasts numerous pickleball courts that are easy to rent if you have your own equipment. If you need additional assistance organizing your pickleball outing, there are plenty of full-service companies ready to handle every detail for you.

Resources: Pickle Pop, Corporate Pickle

Escape Room

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Escape rooms are a great way to build camaraderie. They require participants to work together, combining their problem-solving skills and creativity to overcome challenges and puzzles. The immersive and time-sensitive nature of escape rooms fosters collaboration and communication. Additionally, the shared experience of tackling complex tasks and reaching a common goal helps build trust and foster positive emotions among colleagues.

Resources: The Escape Game, 60Out

Day Trip to Catalina Island

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Catalina Island is a perfect day trip for a team because it provides a break from the usual work environment, allowing team members to relax and connect in a new setting. Shared experiences during the trip, such as exploring new places and participating in fun activities, help build stronger relationships and foster a sense of camaraderie. There are numerous team-building activities such as an arboreal obstacle course, an island tour, scavenger hunts and more.

Resources: Catalina Island Group Activities

Top Golf

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Topgolf is an excellent team building event because it provides an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere that accommodates players of all skill levels, fostering personal connections and improving team morale. The unique blend of competition and entertainment creates an ideal setting for building trust, enhancing communication, and revealing hidden skills among team members. Additionally, Topgolf offers structured team building packages with guided activities, discussion prompts, and lessons on culture, change, collaboration, and strategy, making it a versatile and effective platform for strengthening relationships and boosting overall team performance.

Resources: Topgolf El Segundo

SoFi Stadium Tour

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A SoFi Stadium tour offers a unique, behind-the-scenes experience of one of the world's most advanced sports venues, allowing team members to explore exclusive areas like premium suites, team locker rooms, and the player tunnel together. The tour provides a shared, memorable experience that can foster camaraderie and spark conversations among team members, regardless of their interest in sports. Additionally, the stadium's state-of-the-art features and impressive architecture can inspire creativity and innovation, while the group setting encourages interaction and collaboration, making it an engaging and enjoyable activity for teams of various sizes and backgrounds

Resources: SoFi Stadium Group Tours

Corporate Volunteering

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Volunteer work serves as an excellent team building activity by uniting employees around a shared, meaningful cause, fostering a sense of purpose and collective accomplishment. It provides opportunities for team members to collaborate in new ways, often revealing hidden strengths and leadership qualities that may not be apparent in the regular work environment. Additionally, engaging in community service can boost morale, enhance the company's reputation, and instill a sense of pride among employees, leading to improved workplace relationships and increased job satisfaction.

Resources: Habitat for Humanity, L.A. Works, VolunteerMatch

Corporate Improv Sessions

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A corporate improv class encourages spontaneity, creativity, and quick thinking, skills that are valuable in the workplace. It promotes active listening and collaboration, as participants must work together to create scenes and respond to unexpected situations, fostering better communication and trust among team members. Additionally, the playful and often humorous nature of improv helps break down barriers, reduces stress, and creates a shared positive experience that can improve team morale and cohesion long after the event.

Resources: Improv-LA, Groundlings, Improv for the People

🎬 Paramount and Skydance Are Back On
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Happy Friday Los Angeles! Hope you all had a fantastic Fourth!!

🔦 Spotlight

Paramount and Skydance Media have rekindled talks to merge after negotiations abruptly halted in June. The proposed deal, contingent on approval from Paramount’s board, aims to combine Paramount’s extensive media holdings—including CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon—with Skydance’s film expertise showcased in hits like "Top Gun: Maverick." This merger signals a potential transformation in the media landscape, positioning the new entity to compete more effectively amid challenges from streaming services and the decline of traditional cable TV.

Led by Shari Redstone, Paramount’s controlling shareholder via National Amusements, the deal represents a pivot towards revitalizing Paramount’s strategic direction amidst financial struggles and shareholder concerns. The involvement of major investors like RedBird Capital Partners and David Ellison underscores the financial backing aimed at stabilizing Paramount’s operations and addressing its $14 billion debt burden. Importantly, the agreement includes provisions to protect National Amusements from potential legal challenges, addressing previous hurdles that stalled earlier negotiations.

The deal also includes a 45-day period for Paramount to explore alternative offers, highlighting continued interest from other potential buyers like Barry Diller’s IAC and media executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. This flurry of activity underscores the significant stakeholders’ interest in Paramount’s future and its potential as a key player in a rapidly evolving media industry.

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  • Sidecar Health, a startup that offers personalized health insurance plans to businesses that allow members to see any doctor and pay directly at the time of service, raised a $165M Series D led by Koch Disruptive Technologies. - learn more

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