In response to the plummeting office vacancies in Houston, one of the city’s iconic landmarks, the Niels Esperson Building, is embracing a novel solution – a vertical indoor farm. Eden Grow Systems, a NASA spinoff, recently announced the opening of its innovative agricultural venture within the historic downtown building located at 808 Travis Street. This initiative is a key component of Esperson Building’s vision to evolve into a “Vertical Entrepreneurial Village,” a multifunctional space encouraging residents to live, work, and engage in recreational activities.
Dougal Cameron, Manager of the Esperson Building, highlighted the significance of this initiative amidst the challenges faced by commercial real estate in major metropolitan areas. Cameron stated, “With commercial real estate continuing to suffer in most major metropolitan areas, Eden is pioneering a new and innovative way of taking these spaces and breathing new life into them. We see a future where every unused space can be transformed into profitable farms, creating new jobs, better food security, and a healthier way of growing for our planet. This is the future, and we are excited to be a part of it.”
Eden Grow Systems plans to establish a 1,200-square-foot showroom vertical farm in the downtown tunnels, offering Houston residents an opportunity to learn about its cutting-edge technology. The company aims to inspire more families to cultivate their own food, including fish and crustaceans using Eden Grow’s system.
The transformation of the Esperson Building into a vertical farm will occur in phases. The initial phase will encompass 4,000 square feet, followed by the conversion of an entire floor totaling around 12,000 square feet in the second phase, according to Bart Womack, Founder and CEO of Eden Grow.
Utilizing technology developed by NASA and commercialized by Eden Grow, the vertical farm will employ aeroponics, using a microfine mist to saturate plant roots with water and nutrients. This technique enhances oxygen absorption, resulting in a higher crop yield compared to traditional soil planting methods.
The farm in Esperson will cultivate a variety of produce, including tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, raspberries, microgreens, edible flowers, and even feature an indoor grape orchard and mushroom cultivation. Eden Grow plans to supply its produce to local restaurants that prioritize locally-grown organic products. Talks are also underway to potentially feature their premium produce in H-E-B stores.
While Eden Grow focuses on scaling its operations, the long-term vision includes enabling community members to lease plant towers for personal food cultivation. Bart Womack expressed enthusiasm about the adaptability of their system, stating, “We made our system to be adaptable to the end user. There’s a whole spectrum of need for the hobbyist or the suburban mom who wants to grow more vegetables for her kids.”
Houston, already a hub for vertical farming, has seen other ventures like Dream Harvest and Moonflower Farms contributing to the city’s growing interest in sustainable agriculture. Dream Harvest supplies greens to Whole Foods and Sweetgreen restaurants, while Moonflower Farms operates a 20,000-square-foot hybrid vertical farm and hydroponic greenhouse facility in south Houston.