New European Bauhaus start-up Nabo Farm: "Waste is built into our current food system"
In this first episode, we meet Jens Krogshede, co-founder of the Denish startup Nabo Farm. Together with Norbite (SW), Inoqo (AU) and Crafting Future (GE), Nabo Farm is part of the first cohort of the New European Bauhaus booster program.
Aesthetics, sustainability, circularity, and inclusiveness are the building blocks to deliver the European Green Deal and make our cities more sustainable with higher social values. The EIT Community, led by EIT Food, uses these values within the New European Bauhaus (NEB) mission, to address urban food systems challenges. Through its booster program, it supports selected startups that match the NEB Values to bring their ideas to new markets and scale them up.
In this first episode, we meet Jens Krogshede, co-founder of the Denish startup Nabo Farm. Together with Norbite (SW), Inoqo (AU) and Crafting Future (GE), Nabo Farm is part of the first cohort of the booster program.
Can you tell us a bit more about Nabo Farm?
“Nabo farm is a smart franchise of sustainable urban farms. By using hydroponics and growing lights, they reduce by 90% the amount of water, land and energy usually needed to grow greens”, explains Krogshede. “Nabo Farm is both an urban farm and a service and technology provider.
“Since 2018, we have developed both hardware and software solutions, as well as a huge knowledge base about hydroponic growing and other forms of urban farming”, he explains. “We derive income from selling our services as well modeling and testing business models with partner organisations through pilot projects to find out what is the best way to implement urban farming in their local area.”
Why did you choose to become an urban farm instead of setting up a farm in the countryside?
“Nabo means neighbour as we want to be close to our customers by being the neighbourhood farm. We are not against the countryside, we simply believe that we can be a great addition to serve more people in locally the city”, Krogshede says. “Furthermore, our core mission is to improve the food supply chain and reduce waste as well as any other negative environmental impact. A lot of these negative consequences come from a long and complex route from farm to fork.”
“We need a lot of packaging and overproduction to be able to transport food all over the world, as a lot of it will degrade along the way; so waste is basically built into our food system”, he states. “We believe that urban farms provide solutions to many of these problems, or at least make it easier to reduce the challenges.”
“We need a lot of packaging and overproduction to be able to transport food all over the world, as a lot of it will degrade along the way; so waste is basically built into our food system.”
How is Nabo Farm an inclusive business?
“We currently operate from a basement in a building where people live, so the farm is not naturally seen,”, Krogshede says. “But we do receive a lot of interest from various organizations as well as students to visit us and come and do workshops, so we are doing our best with the time we have to facilitate that.”
“More practically, we work with the municipality of Copenhagen to provide jobs for young people who have a hard time getting into the job market. There aren’t many jobs available anymore that require no specific skills, so we are happy to be among the few who are able to provide those placements to them”, he explains. “In general, we organize all our operations based on the 3 P’s: people, planet, and profit. So, this is our people aspect. Another element we implemented is to be more inclusive, which is making our software very intuitive and easy to use. We want the entry level to become an urban farmer and adopt our software to be as low as possible.”
What about the other P’s: planet and profit. How does Nabo Farm align with NEB value of sustainability?
“Urban farms are indoor which makes it possible to grow year-round. Climate change is real and happening, but it will not affect us as we won’t have failed harvests due to rain or drought like in traditional agriculture,”, Krogshede says proudly. “Furthermore, controlled urban indoor farming leads to greater food security because of the technology. On top of that, vertical farming is very space efficient and all the water is recirculated. That results in 75 to 95% lower water usage than traditional agriculture. We also have reduced waste because we predict the yield by controlling the climate. There is no need to overcompensate or overproduce on purpose. Lastly, we also zoom out to see what other things we can improve in the rest of the food supply chain, for example packaging.”
And what about the third value, is there a sense of aesthetics?
“For us, the aesthetics is for people to be near the food that they eat, and experience it. We hope to play a role in making the growing of food and being near food a natural part of future cities,”, Krogshede declares. “We need urban planners and city planners to make choices now that allocate 20% of each building or site, for example, to be dedicated to recreation, food production, and waste management to create circular systems. We want to inspire them and get them moving. But we also think about aesthetics in a more practical way: we try to make our systems and packaging look as nice as possible.”
"Climate change is real and happening, but it will not affect us as we won’t have failed harvests due to rain or drought, like in traditional agriculture"
What challenges do you face?
“The ways in which overproduction is built into the system”, Krogshede states. “We operate mainly B2B and food professionals are used to getting everything in 24 hours: they order in the middle of the night and in the morning, they expect to have everything delivered freshly. That means that suppliers are buying a bunch of food, hoping that they're making these orders.”
“It’s our challenge to get these chefs and food professionals to realize that it doesn’t make sense that they panic order, for example, parsley, every Monday when they can also have their local farm send it to them weekly based on a subscription,” he continues. “It took a while to convince the first chefs, but now the best customers we have are the ones we talk to least because their demands are met by this recurring collaboration. However, it remains hard to get them to understand how to work with a small local producer. We basically challenge their routines and the habits and surpass the system instead of trying to fit in.”
“As we mainly work B2B, the Covid-19 pandemic actually revealed our biggest challenge, which applies to other farmers too: we need support from governments through subsidies,” Krogshede declares. “But in contrast to traditional farming we can’t access the existing subsidies because the support is calculated on square meters, but we simply don’t fit in that system. Even if they translate it into height meters, we still don’t have soil so we are not considered an agricultural entity.”
"In contrast to traditional farming we can’t access the existing subsidies because the support is calculated on square meters, but we simply don’t fit in that system. Even if they translate it into height meters, we still don’t have soil.”
“Our complexity is that we are both a food producing farm and a software company. So, it’s hard for everyone to identify clearly in which box we belong,”, he sighs. “For example, which department in the ministry do we fall under? For which call can we apply? Then, when we do receive money, we have to prove that the software company isn’t benefiting from the money we get for the agricultural part of our business. Otherwise, we can get penalized. We are, however, still partially a farm. So, we need support to be able to grow and develop at the same pace as traditional agriculture.”
“We need policies to change faster, so new technologies and startups can survive,” he states. “We have also been looking into getting private funding, but they will require faster growth and higher profits. If we need to be able to provide that, however, our company will have to take directions that may be less impactful than we could be if huge profit wasn’t the main driver.”
What are your expectations from the NEB Booster Program?
“We hope to get support with trying to endorse policies that work in our favour as well as getting a platform to the rest of Europe to meet other startups,” Krogshede says. “This is the moment to scale up by taking our individual software and hardware solutions into the world and to share our learnings. When doing so, we will need to find the right business model, the right customers, the right market fit, the right pricing, so we hope to also get support with our further business development.”