Imagine a world where produce is grown indoors under bright pink lights. In this dystopian land devoid of soil, seeds take root in burlap soaked with purified city water, E.coli is a relic of the past, and greens are delivered weekly to your doorstep. This is not a dream; it is a vision by sustainability enthusiasts Nathan Knight and Chris Fox of Bambox Produce in Tempe.
A makeshift office with a humble desk and chair first greet you upon arrival. Beyond the white door to the right, another universe begins to take form, where lush green plants thrive among fluorescent pink lights. Here live lollo and romaine lettuce, Thai and purple basil, and microgreens like mizuna mustard and bull's blood beet. Strawberries and tomatoes are in beta, all shelved inside a bright white warehouse from your science-fiction fantasies.
"Our produce is nutraceutical," Knight says. "Instead of treating disease through medicine, we believe that food itself should be medicine." His enthusiasm is contagious throughout the "farm tour" of the facility. "Look, these are similar to watercress ... this is the beginning of a strawberry ... here is our Thai basil — want to give it a try?"
Knight initially came on as an intern, then took over Bambox's marketing, and is now a major stakeholder in the business. His partner, Fox, resembles the classic hip millennial, donning dreads and plenty of tattoos. He is passionate about creating sustainable food systems, and also teaches yoga. The whole thing starts to make sense — for these young men, Bambox is more of a lifestyle, a choice to change agriculture through sustainable, local farming.
The BAM in Bambox Produce stands for Better Agricultural Methods, and it's the mission of Knight and Fox to "revolutionize the food system through better agricultural methods." Their vision is to eventually have a microfarm in every city. Bambox's philosophy is to grow the most nutrient-dense plants, deliver them to healthy-minded people, and conserve resources in the process.
Indoor gardening with hydroponics is a method of growing plants in a water-based, nutrient-rich solution without soil. They say their hydroponic method utilizes 95 percent less water than traditional agriculture, reduces food waste, and offsets the use of pesticides in the environment. A controlled setting allows crops to be grown year-round — even through the harsh and arid Arizona summers. Bambox follows the three pillars of sustainability, which are economical viability, social justice through community building, and environmental responsibility.
Organic is so 2018; Knight reiterates that their produce is actually better: It is nutraceutical. The controlled environment and removal of pesticides makes it more flavorful and more nutritious. Their greenery even seems to last longer than the grocery store variety (the OG Super Salad has stayed crisp in my fridge for over a week).
"By the time your produce normally reaches your plate, it has already lost four to 40 times of its nutrients," Knight says. For this reason, the Center for Health and the Global Environment recommends "buying locally, which increases the chances of nutritional diversity and decreases the amount of handling." This can drastically reducing the distance food must travel to reach the consumer, and has the potential to minimize food waste and eliminate spoilage.
As top soils nationwide become overworked and lose their mineral stores, Bambox eliminates the need for soil altogether. According to Scientific American, "modern intensive agricultural methods have stripped increasing amounts of nutrients from the soil in which the food we eat grows." A landmark study on the topic by Donald Davis at the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry looked at nutritional data from 1950 and 1999 for 43 various veggies and fruits, discovering "reliable declines in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (Vitamin B2), and Vitamin C over the past half-century."
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With that is mind, here's how it works at Bambox. Choose from a variety of membership options (varying in price from $25 to $65) and build your own box with five, seven, or 10 premade salads (with or without apple cider, cayenne lemon, and honey mustard vinaigrettes). Go with a produce box, or just stick with bulk batches of microgreens. Produce is either delivered to your home weekly, or picked up from various food markets.
And if you'd like to find Bambox out in the world, there is usually a booth at Uptown Market AZ, Gilbert Farmers Market, and the Open Air Market at the Phoenix Public Market.
If you consider yourself a health nut, down to try any new trend to sip from the fountain of youth (celery juice, anyone?), you may want to call and set up a complimentary farm tour during business hours, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Saturday, at their Tempe location. Transparency is one of the concepts founders Knight and Fox are so keen on.
Bambox aims to start a revolution in agriculture, and they say they've begun to do just that. This is what the future of farming looks like for some — warehouse, fluorescent lights, burlap, and all.