HAMILTON — It’s fall in Montana, with windswept mountain ranges and morning temperatures hovering in the 30s, and it's not the ideal growing season.
That is unless you’re inside Local Bounti.
“This new type of growing is really exciting,” said Meaghan McGrath, director of product development.
Local Bounti is a company specializing in growing facilities that are focusing on a new way of farming.
“This is our butter lettuce pond,” McGrath said while walking through a several-acre greenhouse in Hamilton, Montana. “We sell these as a living head, as well as a cut product so you can make a salad directly.”
It’s a year-round growing operation, with an output that the company says uses no pesticides and 90% less water and land than traditional farming.
“This facility is a couple of acres. This would be equivalent to 20 or more acres of traditional farmland,” said Gary Hilberg, the company’s chief sustainability officer.
It’s a critical savings in land and water that could make a difference in the coming years, not just in the drought-ravaged West, but around the world.
By 2050, the United Nations estimates the global population will be more than 9 billion people. The planet will need to produce 70% more food just to meet that demand.
Local Bounti says there are other environmental impacts that can also be avoided through their methods, including how most produce gets to people in the first place, often by traveling thousands of miles.
“By the time you get it, it's been days or weeks since it's been harvested and you lose quality,” Hilberg said. “You have a lot of loss, tremendous amount of waste and a tremendous amount of emissions driving that produce all around the country."
To mitigate that, the company says it’s staying local by selling as close as possible to where its food is grown. Right now, that means their products are sold in 500 stores around Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. They say that can help consumers save money by providing fresher produce that reduces food waste.
“Many of us have that have that moment where we go to make a salad at home. We pull out that clamshell and it's slimy,” McGrath said. “So, because it's traveled many miles, it's taken many days to get to you, and both because we're growing locally and the way that we grow is bringing that really fresh product to you, that lasts longer.”
It’s a growing industry with a $30 billion potential in the Western U.S. alone.
“This technology can apply to all different types of plants,” Hilberg said. “Agriculture business is growing rapidly for exactly those reasons. So, there's lots and we will not be the only player in this area. We expect to be one of many.”