“To me, a strawberry is something I grew up with in Japan. It has always been a treat for me,” says Oishi Berry co-founder and CEO Hiroki Koga. “Growing up as a kid I’d only have strawberries for special occasions, so if I had a strawberry on the dining table, I knew something good happened that day.” This is what inspired Koga’s first-of-its-kind indoor vertical strawberry farm in America, with the goal of consistently creating the highest quality strawberry possible.
The engineered berries go through a meticulous growth and monitoring process, from seed to finished product. The result is a strawberry with a consistent and optimal size, flavor, and texture. At his indoor farm, Koga’s team tests over 20 different environments to see which is best to grow indoor plants, and propagates seedlings based on the results. Koga walks us through the five levels of sanitization needed before entering the environment. He explains that one room is specifically created to replicate the climate in the Japanese alps, where Japanese strawberries are grown. The berries take 30 to 40 days to ripen, and his team is highly trained to harvest them at the exact moment of peak ripeness. Every single strawberry is delicately cut, visually checked for bruising, weighed, and documented. Broken or bruised strawberries are sent to restaurants that might use them in purees and sauces. Right after harvest, the berries get packaged in a cold environment, while going through a final inspection. This is when a BRIC test is conducted, which measures the levels of sweetness in the berries. A common, store-bought strawberry generally measures in anywhere between four and seven BRICs, but Oishii’s measure at about 12 BRICS.
Oishii is also the first vertical farm in the world that has succeeded in controlling bees in a completely closed, artificial environment. The bees fly freely and conduct pollination as they would in nature. Koga goes on to explain how this indoor farm can achieve more feats like this with its indoor environment, such as avoiding harsh, outdoor working conditions for farmers, and creating a consistent product without having to rely on an ever changing and unsustainable climate.
“Indoor vertical farm technology can achieve that,” confirms Koga. “Sure it’s expensive, but it removes all of these problems that are currently caused in the agriculture industry, and it’s really good for our workers.”