Pennsylvania has a limited growing season. Fifth Season wants to change that | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pennsylvania has a limited growing season. Fifth Season wants to change that

click to enlarge Fifth Season - PHOTO: MICHELE WELLS
Photo: Michele Wells
Fifth Season
If you want fresh local produce during the late fall and winter months in Pittsburgh, you’re most likely out of luck. Now, Fifth Season - formerly RoBotany, a robotics startup out of Carnegie Mellon University - has developed a way to possibly grow fruits and vegetables all year round in Southwestern Pennsylvania and beyond.

The company announced plans for a flagship indoor vertical farm in Braddock. set to open in early 2020. The 60,000-square-foot facility is positioned to become the first commercial urban farm to use robotics technology.

Founded in 2016, Fifth Season previously tested its technology at two research and development vertical farms in the South Side. The greens produced at those farms sold at local retailers, including Giant Eagle and Whole Foods, and were used in local restaurants like Superior Motors, honeygrow, and Kahuna.

"The goal through our first three years of development was to prove we could bring fresh food to urban customers at prices competitive with conventionally grown produce," says Fifth Season co-founder and CEO, Austin Webb, in a press release,

It’s projected that produce from the Braddock farm will also be available in Pittsburgh-area grocery stores and restaurants

Developed in the early 1900s, vertical farming uses stacked units to grow a variety of plants, especially in indoor environments where temperature, moisture, light, and other factors can be controlled. Over time, it’s been viewed as a way to address food insecurity in areas where fresh produce is not usually readily available or accessible. It’s also been viewed as a viable option as farmland disappears due to development, pollution, and other factors.

What distinguishes Fifth Season’s approach is what Webb calls a “fully integrated, proprietary technology” able to completely control the “hydroponic growing process and optimize key factors such as energy, labor usage, and crop output."

In a press release, he says the farm will deliver produce in any season. This includes an estimated 500,000 pounds of lettuce, spinach, kale, arugula, and herbs during the first full year of operation, all of which will be pesticide-free.

A press release also claims the facility will be partially solar-powered and require 95 percent less water compared to traditional growing methods.

The company is also planning to expand in cities across the U.S. and is currently evaluating sites for potential future farms.

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