PodPonics sets sights high

Produce by the pod

Kaylinn Gilstrap

Vertical farming was a hot agricultural topic before the recession. What better way to provide produce to an urban society than to grow it out of specially commissioned skyscrapers? Then economic realities set in. Enter Atlanta-based PodPonics.

Founder Matt Liotta, an Emory computer science major with no prior agrarian background, dreamed up the idea: a system employing stackable, trailer-sized containers—“pods”—as greenhouses. Each unit holds five multichanneled rows of plants grown under fluorescent lights. A nutrient-rich water supply flows around their roots thanks to underground tanks. The result is a locally grown, pesticide-free crop of in-demand vegetables (primarily lettuce and microgreens, for now).

A pod’s construction costs ring up at $50 per square foot—a cost-effective venture that could also, says Liotta, help solve a worldwide problem: growing populations in need of produce, with no land on which to harvest it. “Long-term trends suggest that there really needs to be some sort of a revolution in how we grow food,” he says.

Launched in 2009 on a small plot on Ponce belonging to the old Phoenix club, PodPonics moved to an eleven-acre site near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport at the end of last year, using a portion of $825,000 in personal and private investments. There, up to 1,140 pods could sit in stacks of three, potentially growing the equivalent of two and a half acres of produce per pod annually—close to 100 times what traditional farming turns out. PodPonics has global ambitions but currently sells to restaurants like 4th & Swift and Murphy’s, and Liotta hopes to extend to schools and grocery stores like Whole Foods within the year. podponics.com