Idea for Ag-Tech Community Wins Smart Cities–Smart Futures Competition

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Agritecture’s client, Kate Field, is among the final winners of the Smart Cities–Smart Futures competition. This competition encourages members of Wisconsin's higher education community to generate innovative ideas that enhance quality of life, improve working environments, expand transportation networks, inspire creative city planning and promote sustainable energy solutions in the state.

Kate Field has always been passionate about plants and the world of horticulture. She graduated with a horticulture degree from Colorado State University and her first career job was working as a produce and plant buyer for the grocery chain Safeway Stores. She then went on to obtain a Masters degree from the University of California - Davis in Community Development/Sustainable Agriculture, and later accepted a faculty position at Gateway Technical College in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where she taught for 27 years until retiring in April.

While at Gateway, Kate specialized in floriculture and managed the campus greenhouses. Ten years ago they installed about seven different kinds of hydroponic systems for teaching. She tells us, “I was instantly amazed at how relatively easy it was to grow food in these systems in our greenhouse, year round.”  It’s very difficult to discuss local food and sustainable food systems in any measurable way growing food outdoors when Wisconsin has only 177 frost free days and very erratic weather.

A Vision for an “AgTech Community”

The key word here is actually community. The idea was inspired by Kate’s vision of the kind of community she would like to live in as a retired person. “It’s also the kind of place I think a lot of people would like to live in, but especially millennials,” Kate explains.

Wisconsin has been experiencing what is called a ‘brain drain’, for many years. Young adults are educated in the state’s colleges, some of the best in the nation, and then take their education and talents out of state. This heavily impacts Wisconsin’s economy, as the state doesn’t have nearly the number of skilled workers needed to move business innovation forward. Foxconn, the sponsor of the contest, promised the state they would hire lots of workers. However, with most of the young, educated people moving out and few moving in, they are having a really hard time doing that. So why is this happening? It can’t just be the horrible weather, Chicago is only an hour away and young people love that city!   

Young people no longer want to own homes in the suburbs and commute to work like their parents. They want a vibrant city life filled with art, music, restaurants and public transportation. They want marijuana legalized and regulated like alcohol. They want to live sustainably and are very health conscious. They eat out more and buy prepared food more than any generation before them. Many of their social activities involve food. They are careful where they spend their money and use it to support causes like organic food, local food and local farmers. The demand for organic food and local food is a fast rising trend.

So Kate’s project is as much about creating community as it is about food. “I remember being very lonely at my first job in Dallas, TX. Moving away from friends and family was heartbreaking and it was difficult to make new friends in such a foreign place.” explains Kate. The rooftop greenhouse and Ag-Tech focus in her winning idea would be a unique and attractive development, but more importantly it would create a community of people who could connect through their shared interests in food, health, nature and sustainability. This is the kind of ‘super cool’ place needed to attract talent. The kind of lifestyle wanted by young talented professionals to live, work and play.

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Agritecture Moves Kate’s Idea Forward

The Smart Cities–Smart Futures contest was divided into 3 stages. Kate tells us, “The first stage was easy, but I was surprised I won as the competition involved educators from all the colleges in Wisconsin. It was an honor to be considered among them and a huge boost to my self confidence! The third and final round was a business plan, which was very much out of my knowledge base. I almost gave up. I was feeling overwhelmed by it, but my husband encouraged me to give it a shot.”

After deciding to seek external help, a partner, she contacted Agritecture, “I had been following Henry’s blog for awhile and knew he did this kind of work. So as a rather ‘last ditch’ effort I filled out the online form and much to my surprise, found myself speaking to Henry on the phone a short time later.” Kate needed help with the business plan portion of the contest and Agritecture agreed to help. “It was a whirlwind of activity for about ten days getting information together.” Kate recalls.

Agritecture’s staff primarily pulled together return on investment information, potential profits and monetary figures needed for the business plan. The team also provided a sketch up of the building with a rooftop greenhouse as well as charts and graphs which made the proposal look impressive. The team thoroughly reviewed the proposal and evaluation guide word for word until it was done right. The original proposal devised by Kate called for two Ag-Tech community sites to be developed as well as a research component. Agritecture suggested she divide the project plan into a phase one and phase two to be constructed later. This also addressed the need for a contingency plan. “I also needed to provide a short video which I tried to shoot myself and which was a disaster! Henry helped me pull some things together for that and then put it all together, creating the final video,” Kate adds.

“There has been so much excitement and community support for the idea that I’m hopeful it will happen in the near future. If Foxconn or another investor decides to move this idea forward we will definitely need Agritecture’s help.”

Stay tuned to see what’s next for Kate’s Ag-Tech Community!

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