Elon Musk’s Brother Aims to Revolutionize Urban Farming with Square Roots - Dispatch Weekly

September 20, 2016 - Reading time: 7 minutes

Kimbal Musk, Elon Musk’s younger brother has launched a new accelerator and company in Brooklyn called Square Roots that will invest in startups, growing fresh produce in cities.

By opening an urban farm in Brooklyn, New York, Square Roots aims to revolutionise the way Americans think about food and produce.

The accelerator will also provide mentorship and resources to millennial urban farmers, using shipping containers with hydroponic growing towers.

What is Square Roots?

Square Roots is a new agriculture venture that is located in the old Pfizer factory, Brooklyn, New York that holds 10 farms and young farmers who tend to the fresh produce.

Along with Tobias Peggs he two entrepreneurs will use 10 steel, 320 square foot shipping containers full of organic greens and herbs to make vertical farms inside the Pfizer building.

The young millennial farmers “Will get hands-on experience running a vertical farming business with us- but we’re here to help them become future leaders in food, wherever that journey leads,” said co-founder Tobias Peggs.

The incubator program that starts this this fall will give food-tech entrepreneurs space to develop and increase farming startups.

They will use technology developed by startups freight Farms and Zip Grow using climate controlled LED lights and a hydroponic system.

Who is Kimbal Musk?

Photo was taken of Musk outside The Kitchen in Boulder
Photo was taken of Musk outside The Kitchen in Boulder

Photo was taken of Musk outside The Kitchen in Boulder

Kimbal Musk is the younger brother of Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, who has invested in SolarCity and SpaceX.

Originally from South Africa the brothers worked together to found Zip2, a startup in 1995 that allowed newspapers to build their own city guides.

After selling the company for $300 million in 1999 to Compaq, Elon Musk founded PayPal, the online payments platform, Tesla and his other space ventures.

Kimbal took a different route, moving to New York to take French cooking classes at international Culinary Center.

When he volunteered to feed firefighters after the terror attacks on September 11 2001, Musk had an epiphany, citing “That sense of community that I felt was just profound to me,” opening a restaurant soon after.

Kimal Musk then opened the restaurant The Kitchen Upstairs and taking an executive job at social networking startup, OneRiot, before launching Next Door, to merge community and fresh food, and quality burgers together. There are five restaurants in Colorado at present with plans to expand.

What is Urban Farming?

Photo Credit: Freight Farms
Photo Credit: Freight Farms

Urban farming or agriculture is producing food in cities or heavily populated areas where space is scarce.

The difference between urban farming and community gardening is the commercial aspect involved. The former is based on selling produce rather than for personal needs.

Food can be sold to restaurants, farmers markets or community enterprises.

Why Choose Urban Farming?

Many advocates of urban farming point to the fact that vertical farms expend 80 percent less water than outdoor farms and require much less space, which is significant in urban areas.

With seven billion people earth, the planet is under massive strain with pollution, habitat damage and climate change.

Urban farming decreases the ‘food miles’ linked to long-distance transportation, making it a more sustainable way to grow food.

By increasing greenery in cities, this increases shading, and reduces toxic emissions. Urban farming also helps people reconnect to their food, understanding how it is grown.

Why is Urban Farming So Important for Americans? 

Photo Credit: Square Roots
Photo Credit: Square Roots

Tobias Peggs noted that he is often approached by young people who are frustrated with the industrial food system but don’t know what to do about it.

Peggs said, “Seeing this frustration, and pent up energy, was a big part of the original inspiration for founding Square Roots.”

Musk said in a Medium article that people want real food:

“Young people especially are turning away from McDonald’s towards healthy, locally-sourced options like Next Door and Sweetgreen.”

According to thestateofobesity.org, in 2016 adult obesity rates now exceed 35 percent in four states, 30 percent in 25 states and are above 20 percent in all states.

What Impact will Square Roots Have on Urban Farming?

Square Roots aims to help young urban farmers to start thinking about innovative food production.

With investors such as food tech VCs Powerplant Ventures, Lightbank, GroundUp, FoodTech Angels and The Kitchen, there is plenty of scope for this venture to work.

If successful, Musk will be able to build more farms similar to the Square Roots in Brooklyn, within New York and expand to other US cities.

DW Staff

David Lintott is the Editor-in-Chief, leading our team of talented freelance journalists. He specializes in covering culture, sport, and society. Originally from the decaying seaside town of Eastbourne, he attributes his insightful world-weariness to his roots in this unique setting.