Broomfield, Colorado

Harvest Today founder and CEO Rick Langille sees controlled environment agriculture as a market that’s ripe for innovation.

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Photos Jonathan Castner

A self-described “Canadian farm boy,” Langille went into the manufacturing of window blinds in Winnipeg in the 1970s.

Langille later ran ESI, a Denver-based manufacturer of motorized window coverings that he sold in 2007. He then took a look at indoor agriculture, but didn’t think the industry was mature enough for a startup.

“In 2013 — when I thought I was retired — I wanted to go back to farming, because that’s really where my heart was at,” says Langille. “I did a deep dive into a business analysis of controlled environment agriculture at the time. It was obvious you couldn’t make any money.”

He and his wife instead spent five years on a sailboat before returning to Colorado in 2019. By then, indoor agriculture had taken off, leading him to start Harvest Today.

“By the time 2020 came around, it was pretty obvious controlled environment agriculture was taking off,” says Langille. “You could make money growing lettuce.”

It follows that Harvest Today hit the ground running in 2020. The company’s flagship product, the Harvest Wall, is a scalable means of indoor agriculture “for an individual or a small family all the way up to large commercial growers,” says Langille.

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Sold with optional LED lights, the scalable Harvest Wall features tiles with grow ports filled with coconut fiber. The key features: more nutrients, zero pesticides, and 97 percent less water.

Explains Langille : “We use a medium to root our plants in, and that allows the plants to bind to micronutrients that are stored in the plant and the soil itself. It’s not just being washed with nutrient solution all the time like hydroponics. It’s not being misted with solution — aeroponic. We are what we call ‘vertigation.’ We did trademark the name, vertigation. It truly is just vertical irrigation, and that’s what allows the plants to get such a huge leap in the category of nutrient density. We are quantifying the nutrient density of our plants. You can actually taste the difference.”

The market likes what it is tasting, too: The first shipments went out in January 2022 and demand is growing by the week. “We are getting deposits for what are the beginnings of some of the largest controlled environment agriculture installations in the world,” says Langille.

Based in Alice Springs, Australia, Centralia plans to install 22,000 Harvest Walls by 2025 to underpin an indoor growing campus that will be capable of growing 30 million pounds of produce annually.

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Langille says centralized agriculture is a broken system. “If we’re getting produce from California and we’re here in Colorado, they can’t get it here soon enough. It’s already lost the bulk of its nutrient value just in the transportation alone,” he explains. “Our point is hyperlocal, hyperlocal, hyperlocal.”

There are more than 100 different sizes of Harvest Wall. A small system starts at about $1,500, but commercial installations usually have a budget of at least $250,000, and some go into the millions.

Harvest Today worked with Kapushion Design, Langille’s engineering firm of choice back in his ESI days, to develop and prototype the Harvest Wall.

“When Joe [Kapushion] and I were working diligently on the initial designs for the Harvest Wall, I said, ‘Look, this has got to be made in America 100 percent. We are not going offshore,'” says Langille.

Harvest Today now works with an injection molding company in Denver, an extruder in Centennial, and a Littleton-based rotomolder. The company handles CNC fabrication, assembly, and packaging in-house at its 7,000-square-foot facility in Broomfield.

Demand is rippling down the supply chain. One partner “has installed a 500-ton press just to run our stuff,” says Langille. “It’s a big investment.”

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Langille says he was inspired by the book, Eat to Live, by Joel Fuhrman, M.D. “People seem to think they can go to a pharmacy and buy a magic pill. Doesn’t happen. You have to be actively engaged in working to eat better.”

He adds, “I’m actually a pretty good poster child for what we’re doing, because I had open-heart surgery in September of 2019, and I do have a pacemaker now, and I still CrossFit four times a week. . . . I feel fantastic.

Challenges: A common refrain: The company’s supply chain for PVS and other materials has been tested. “We can’t produce enough plastic,” says Langille. “We are diversifying. We are doing a deep investigation into different alternate materials, particularly plant-based. There’s actually a huge emerging product that’s plant-based instead of petroleum-based.”

Opportunities: Controlled environment agriculture is a $70 billion market worldwide, says Langille. “Right now, it’s pretty obvious the bulk of our sales are going to go to commercial growers,” he says.

Schools are an intriguing niche. “We’ve been selling an alternate product [to schools],” says Langille. “We’re going to have a huge push into schools here in the fall.”

Needs: Langille says Harvest Today is in “go mode”: The company needs 15 to 20 more employees, funding for tooling, and double or triple the square footage. “We’re quite bullish about what’s going on,” he notes.