🚜 Farms, but 50-stories tall - The Hustle
The Hustle

🚜 Farms, but 50-stories tall

If you were considering a rebrand to stake your claim on the next technological frontier, you may want to pump the brakes. The company formerly known as Square, which changed its name to Block earlier this month to reflect CEO Jack Dorsey’s blockchain ambitions, was sued by H&R Block for trademark infringement. Guess not every name change goes unpunished…

Today’s rundown:

  • Plant skyscrapers: Why the future of farming is straight up.
  • Cereal killer: Kellogg’s strike, explained.
  • Strategy corner: Autodesk’s CEO on the company’s platform play.
  • Around the web: Mariah Carey’s Xmas reign, mini-golfing from an app, and more wild internet things.

Let’s do it.

The big idea

Old Macdonald had a… skyscraper

By 2050, the world’s population will increase by 2.2B and 68% will live in cities, up from 55% now.

That’s a problem for food, which, unlike people, is staying still. In the US, for example, ~100% of lettuce grows in California and Arizona. The result: distance, time, and distribution account for 20%-35% of produce costs.

This imbalance is particularly notable in China, where rapid urbanization means the country now has 21% of the world’s population but just 9% of the arable land.

The solution: Build farms up

The next generation of farms are indoors and vertical. “Vertical farms” work like parking garages.

Many don’t use soil; they use materials and sensors that mimic natural environments.

Because they can operate 24/7 and recycle water, the efficiency is f*cking ridiculous: 350x the traditional farm harvest with just 1% of the water.

Midway through this year, indoor farming VC investments were already up 403.4% YoY to $2.7B.

Where’s this happening?

Globally. Major projects can be found in:

  • Newark, where AeroFarms has a 70k-square-foot facility growing ~2m pounds of produce annually.
  • Abu Dhabi, where the government is offering $150m in incentives for vertical farmers to come build.
  • China, where plans are in place for a 51-story office tower doubling as a vertical farm that’ll produce enough crops to feed 40k people each year.

Sounds great. What’s the catch?

Economics, as always

It’s not cheap to build a high-tech super-farm, and it doesn’t make sense to grow every plant in one. One Cornell professor calculated a loaf of bread made from indoor-grown wheat would cost $11.

Costs will likely drop over time. At the same time, innovation will rise.

In 2012, ~60% of traditional farmers were older than 55. Last year, 70% of vertical farmers were younger than 40.

That’s not to say that older folks can’t innovate, but that younger folks are bringing some new ideas to a ~10k-year-old industry.

(Have any thoughts about vertical farms? Let us know here.)


Ecommerce marketplace The List scored $3.5m in seed funding, while its new app will help shoppers find exclusive luxury items. #ecommerce-retail

Vroom: Dutch startup Lightyear announced a solar electric car. It looks pretty sleek, but will come with a price tag of ~$34k. #clean-energy

Toasty: NASA’s Parker Solar Probe got within 6.5m miles of the sun, the closest it’s ever come. Up next? Even closer. #emerging-tech

Most people agree social media should be regulated, but how? The Verge explores the conflict between regulation and the First Amendment. #privacy

Merry Cryptomas: Millennials and Gen Z are apparently into crypto, NFTs, and metaverse real estate as gifts. #fintech-crypto

Oops: Google said it would stop running ads denying climate change, but they’re still slipping through. #big-tech

Now on MFM: YouTube creators for kids, the business model of touring, VR therapy, and more. #mfm

Cereal Disputes

What’s going on with Kellogg’s?

Things are not going g-r-r-r-eat for Kellogg’s, maker of Frosted Flakes and other cereals, as its unionized workers remain on strike.

The strike includes ~1.4k workers

They’re members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) and work in cereal plants in Michigan, Tennessee, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania.

BCTGM and Kellogg’s were unable to negotiate a new contract before their old one expired on Oct. 5, per CNBC. Union members have been on strike since.

What’s the issue?

The main beef is that employees are classified as either “legacy” or “transitional,” depending on seniority.

Transitional employees make ~$12/hour less and receive less desirable health and retirement benefits, per HuffPost.

Previously, transitional employees could account for 30% of Kellogg’s workforce. Kellogg’s wanted to remove that cap, which BCTGM opposed.

The union also rejected an offer that let workers move to the higher pay level after 4 years but was limited to only 3% of a plant’s headcount.

Workers also want:

  • Better hours: Workers say they worked extreme overtime — sometimes 16-hour days, 100+ days in a row — amid the pandemic, during which cereal consumption reached record highs.
  • Better pay: The latest rejected offer gave legacy employees a 3% raise — but that’s lower than inflation.

What’s happened since?

Kellogg’s says it’s made 6 offers. After the union rejected the last one in early December, it announced it would replace striking workers, which President Biden said left him “deeply troubled.”

Meanwhile, people in support of the workers began spamming application sites with bogus resumes.

Product to Platform

Autodesk’s platform play, explained

Autodesk’s move to the cloud has already been credited with pulling the industrial world into the future.

Now, the company is giving those same companies the tools to build the future themselves.

We spoke with Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost about the company’s big bet on Forge, its cloud development platform.

First — what the heck is a cloud development platform?

Forge is powered by APIs, which are best described as software intermediaries that allow 2 applications to talk to each other.

Autodesk has long offered its own applications to customers, but with Forge, it’s taking a page out of Amazon’s AWS playbook, allowing 3rd parties to build apps on top of Autodesk products.

The biggest implication, according to Anagnost, is that companies will be able to build verticalized applications that serve more specific needs than Autodesk’s core products.

Some examples include:

  • Digital Twins: Moicon uses Forge to build digital twins for manufacturing companies — giving more visibility into factory operations and allowing teams to boost performance
  • Integrating AR & VR: Resolve uses Forge to combine 3D design models with VR, where construction teams can hold immersive meetings to improve designs

As more companies use Forge…

… the platform will offer customers more features and more ways to tailor Autodesk’s software to specific projects or outcomes.

In other words, Autodesk’s platform play could soon become just as important as its move to the cloud.


✈️ On this day: In 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully piloted their glider in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.

⛱️ How to: Many people struggle to really clock out, even when on vacation. National Geographic has some tips for truly disconnecting and enjoying your “me time.”

🎄 That’s interesting: See how Mariah Carey became the “Queen of Christmas” thanks to a) her 1994 hit “All I Want for Christmas is You” and b) good marketing.

🚢 Useful: If you’ve ever been curious about a boat or where it’s going, check out Marine Traffic. It’s an interactive map that shows info about ships, including their name and destination.

⛳️ Cure boredom: OneShot Golf is an app that lets you control a robot putter at a real mini-golf course.

🐱 Aww: And now, a cat who either loves to make pottery or hopes to reenact the most memorable scene in Ghost.


(A roundup of our best reads from the last couple weeks…)

🥾 Feature story: Who gets left out of ‘bootstrapping’?

🗣️ The hottest new buzzword is…

🕵️ Employers are spying on workers… to their own detriment

🏓 The national pickleball gold rush

📱 What the heck is smishing?

Shower Thoughts
  1. “Porcupines must be delicious, or they wouldn’t need their quills for protection.”
  2. “Someone saying you’re gaslighting them when you’re not is them gaslighting you into thinking you are.”
  3. “Someone needs to make an exact science of how to reheat things in the microwave.”
  4. “People who fail to use turn signals won’t even lift a finger to be safe.”
  5. “It’s weird to think that nighttime is the natural state of the universe, and that daytime is only caused by a nearby radiating ball of flame.”
via Reddit

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