BEAUTY IN THE FRIDGE

It took this M’sian smart farm 5 years to find an ideal method to grow pesticide-free veg

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7 years. That’s how long 5G-enabled farm BoomGrow has been around, but it wasn’t always this efficient. Founders Jay, Murali, and Shan had initially explored different farming methods, from simple hydroponics to aquaponics.

“We grew our greens in tiny little boxes. We even tried growing them outdoors. Nothing worked,” Jay recalled in an interview with Vulcan Post.

This trial and error went on for 5 years until the co-founders discovered AI-powered vertical farming. With this method, they realised they could also grow their greens in a controlled indoor environment which would render harmful chemicals like pesticides unnecessary.

Finally, they’d found the method that enabled them to properly accomplish their goals of producing clean and tasty greens.

Using 95% fewer resources to get the same yield

“Our systems detect how various inputs such as light, water, and pH impact the quality and taste of our plants. We call this our plant recipes,” Shan said.

“We then rely on machine learning and data analytics to tailor each input to the respective plant, producing greens that are tastier.”

The team calls its tech-equipped system the Machine Farm. It is employed throughout BoomGrow’s repurposed shipping containers where the crops are grown on modular plant racks.

The outside of a container, looking out onto the urban landscape / Image Credit: BoomGrow

5 stacks of crops on a 360 sq. ft plot of land can produce a yield that’s the equivalent of a 1-acre traditional outdoor farm’s harvests, according to the team.

With this tech and efficient utilisation of space, they can grow 20 varieties of leafy greens and herbs in a residential neighbourhood in Ampang.

At the same time, Jay said that the Machine Farm uses 95% less land, water, and fuel than traditional outdoor farms.

Their tech-driven approach to farming has seen BoomGrow achieve multiple milestones, from being the first 5G showcase farm in the country to being recipients of government grants from SME Corp, PlaTCOM Ventures, and MDEC.

One of their proudest moments was actually getting validation from renowned chefs working in 5-star hotels, who placed an order for their greens and have been loyal supporters ever since.

Dedicated to clean processes and products

It’s clear that there are already several players in the precision and vertical farming industry with more joining, but few are as gung-ho about clean produce as BoomGrow is.

Clean doesn’t just mean vegetables that are pesticide-free; the value had to be reflected in the overall way their business operated, the team decided.

Inside a container / Image Credit: BoomGrow

As a former national athlete, Murali wanted to start BoomGrow because he knew the difference that good nutrition could make.

Meanwhile, Shan is an architect by training who had developed an interest in sustainable design over the course of his career. Fascinated by the way modular structures had a minimal impact on their surroundings, he wanted to explore other avenues of incorporating sustainability into one’s daily life.

He serves as BoomGrow’s Chief Innovation Officer, designing and bringing their plant systems to life. On the other hand, Jay was inspired to co-found BoomGrow after many years in sustainability advisory.

She told Vulcan Post, “Over the course of my career, I have had experience consulting for various agriculture and F&B manufacturing companies. This allowed me to assess the data around some of the practices, as well as the disconnect people in these organisations had about sustainability.”

Putting their heads together resulted in the team coming up with the current solution that’s committed to implementing the 12th Sustainable Development Goal, responsible consumption and production.

Bundles of veggies at competitive prices

With all the investment into the technology that grows their greens, it’d seem like a purchase from them should cost a bomb.

But because they’re able to eliminate the need for vast land situated in remote areas and a long cold chain, they can offer their veggies at a competitive price.

BoomGrow sells 5 to 6 varieties of veggies depending on the bundle you go for, with prices between RM45-RM65 per bundle. Free delivery is offered to those who subscribe for weekly or fortnightly plans. Otherwise, deliveries within the Klang Valley would cost RM10 for purchases above RM45, or RM15 for ones below RM45.

Young greens growing on the modular racks / Image Credit: BoomGrow

In comparison to another veggie delivery service with a subscription model, Plant B, BoomGrow’s pricing is reasonable.

Plant B offers 6 types of veggies in a box, and a 2-week subscription would be RM37/week, while a 4-week subscription would be RM34/week. Delivery fees come in flat rates of RM6-RM8 depending on where you are within the Klang Valley.

For both BoomGrow and Plant B, individuals don’t get to pick exactly what goes into their box, but Plant B’s customers will be informed of the variety they can expect based on season and availability. The team can also be contacted for exclusions.

On the other hand, BoomGrow clearly lists each variety of veggie in a bundle with the assigned weightage, so you’ll know exactly what you’ll be getting.

Enhancing their B2C services during the pandemic

When the pandemic first hit in 2020, BoomGrow saw a steep decline in overall sales because hotels and restaurants had to reduce their orders.

Inversely, orders from their e-commerce then surged as more people subscribed to their veggie bundles.

“The pandemic has underscored the urgency of building better food production, including fresh vegetables. Customers are becoming more aware that food choices influence both their health and the health of the planet,” the team concluded.

They were able to cater to this demand thanks to support from MaGIC, particularly as part of Cohort 4 in the Global Accelerator Programme.

Through it, their technology pipelines became more focused and they were able to expand on their digital footprints, refine e-commerce offerings, and enhance their automation. Now, BoomGrow is readying for a rollout of their Machine Farms outside of Klang Valley to reach more customers.

Out there, they’ll find themselves face-to-face with more players in the veggie delivery space, but perhaps their technology and mission will set them apart in the long run and appeal to a segment of customers with whom their mission resonates with.

  • You can learn more about BoomGrow here.
  • You can read more agritech content here.

Featured Image Credit: BoomGrow founders

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