Crops Insights

Urban farm initiative maps each food item from seed to shelf


Imagine walking into a grocery store and learning exactly where your food item was planted, nurtured, harvested, and packed all at the click of a button. Square Roots, an indoor seed-to-sales urban farm headquartered in Brooklyn, New York, has made that level of transparency a reality with the launch of new packaging festooned with an informative little QR code.

Beginning today, the labels on all of Square Roots’ products tell the complete story of how and where the food item — in the case of this company, they specialize in herbs — was grown. The hope is that this takes food supply chain transparency to the next level — and brings new meaning, and opportunity, to the notion that America’s public needs to #knowyourfarmer.

Each code (or searchable lot number) discusses the stages of seeding, nursery, transplant, harvest, packing, and delivery. The story is mapped out on an interactive “transparency timeline” that includes unique and detailed information traced back to the specific package that was scanned. 

“Consumers across the world are demanding greater transparency into where and how their food is grown — and with good reason,” Square Roots said in a blog post announcing the initiative. It cited a handful of major foodborne illness outbreaks in recent years and the breakdown in public trust that events such as those can cause. 

Square Roots is no stranger to innovative thinking. Founded, in part, by Elon Musk’s brother, Kimbal, the company has been featured the past couple of years by Business Insider, USA Today, and Reuters, just to name a few of many outlets. Square Roots farms inside of 10 shipping containers and yields more than 75 pounds of food each week. There’s been a lot of fanfare around what they’re doing in the Big Apple.

The end-to-end system that Square Roots has in place is supported by software that enables the company to monitor and control every aspect of the food process. Along the way, they’re capturing a multitude of data points about their herbs.

The company’s production and distribution are fixed on the Brooklyn and Manhattan boroughs, so you may not get to see this transparency effort in action unless you’re an NYC local or have a road trip planned. This is a company that celebrates buying local and, with a farming operation smack dab in the middle of such a big metropolitan area, prides itself on being just a subway ride away from millions of potential customers.

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