Look into PACE (property assessed clean energy) financing for your home. If you rent, tell your landlord you want geothermal and solar. Call your electric company and see what rebates and discounts are available.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nick Starling, Skyscraper Farm.
Nick Starling is the Founder and Chairman of Skyscraper Farm, vertical farms housed in a controlled environment house within mixed use buildings.
A former Army Ranger responsible for protecting Diplomats in Iraq as a contracted Counter-Assassination Specialist for the U.S. Department of State. Today, he’s the world’s leading agricultural economist and known as the father of AgARDA (Agriculture Advanced Research Development Authority), his aim is to provide farm to table in less than five hours, wherever you live.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I come from a blue-collar family, both grandfathers served in WW2, after the war, one grandfather became an orange farmer in Florida while the other became a successful butcher in the DC area. My mother was a teacher, and my father was special operations in Vietnam, he died from Agent Orange when I was just three. His death was the start of my life-long disdain for herbicides: both military and commercial grade.
Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?
I was an Army Ranger and the lead team leader into Baghdad during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
When I returned home, I self-medicated with alcohol. The Veterans Affairs (VA) didn’t have the resources to deal with PTSD at that time, I was left on my own.
One day I decided to move out of the city, to see if care was better elsewhere, and to continue my education. I had a few successes starting small businesses but wanted to learn how to become the #1 mergers and acquisitions professional in the world. I intended to get a JD/PhD. I started freshman year in 2011 at Hawaii Pacific University where I took a class called ‘Intro to Geography’. The Professor projected a map of the United States on the board and said, “this is where everyone lives.” pointing to the coasts. “This is where we make all our food,” pointing to the center. It was at that moment a lightning bolt hit me: grow food inside buildings. I pulled out my Moleskine gifted to me by a close artist friend and began to draw concepts of my buildings; trying to figure out how to get sunlight in the center so as not to waste electricity. I also made numerous notes on farm-to-table (F2T) implications. I had just watched a myriad of farm-to-table documentaries on Netflix. I brought my notes to class the following week and my professor got a huge smile on his face. “You need to talk to my dad,” he said.
The Professor’s dad was a Harvard trained Architect. A few discussions later and I had a few initial renderings of my building. From then on, I started research into what is now known as Controlled Environment Agriculture.
Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?
My time as a soldier gave me the fortitude to see myself through some very difficult times. Every soldier is a tree hugger at heart, trees stop bullets.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
Growing indoors is much more efficient when sunlight is used. It’s 2021, every building component has a green counterpart, resources are readily available — that will support going green. Skyscraper Farm doesn’t waste electricity like other vertical farms. We use free sunlight, which goes straight to the bottom line.
Solar panels, photovoltaic windows, and geothermal energy fuel most of our building systems. And we put energy back on the grid.
You will be met with skepticism whenever you try something new. For example, at the 2019 Global Entrepreneurship Summit at The Hague, I was told that the solar and geothermal systems I said I would use in my buildings, didn’t exist at that time. When in fact, I had the exact documentation to prove that they existed and could be used. A lot of people are passive when it comes to ensuring their supply chain is as sustainable as possible. One must just look. It’s out there.
Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks that the public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?
1. Cut down on food waste: love your leftovers.
2. Buy greenhouse grown at the grocery store: no need for herbicides, pesticides, or fungicides indoors. Added benefit: it’s probably grown nearby. Think about it: the average Apple in your house is 9 months old.
3. Look into PACE (property assessed clean energy) financing for your home. If you rent, tell your landlord you want geothermal and solar. Call your electric company and see what rebates and discounts are available.
Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
1. As an Army Ranger it is my duty to remind everyone: lead by example.
2. Get schools to start composting programs and teach your children about soil health. For example, the edible school yard.
3. Plant fruit trees and vegetable gardens wherever you can, especially rooftops and sidewalks.
4. Plant for pollinators: wild pollinators need your help. Urge your state to plant pollinator-friendly medians on highways by taking it to your state house.
5. Get involved in the one trillion tree initiative at 1t.org.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
Sustainability not only helps do your part environmentally, but it makes good business sense too.
There are existing financing structures for businesses that will provide geothermal and solar energy resources at a fraction of the cost. The initial cost for becoming more sustainable is a big investment that pays off triple fold with 2–3 years and your customers will love you for it.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I want to thank my Professors and the Harvard University Disability Services for helping me through my tough battle with my invisible wounds of war. My education has helped me further my company, and my growth as a person and professional economist.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-).
Call your congressman at 202–224–3121 and tell them to give more money to AgARDA, the Agricultural Advanced Research Development Authority at USDA. While it is a relatively new agency, it can bring an end to world hunger, literally save the planet, and stave off a full-blown water crisis by investing in bleeding edge AgTech. DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, says it isn’t innovative enough unless it fails at 70% of its projects. DARPA is where we got the internet, satellites, texting, GPS, and many other useful technologies. AgARDA can do that for the environment by shifting agriculture indoors; allowing our planet to regrow into the biomes of record.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
My mantra is ‘When in charge, be in charge. When not in charge, and in the absence of leadership, take charge.’ This military vernacular, that I live my life by.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
You mean that thing that makes teenagers feel bad about themselves and forces adults into depression? No thanks. Social Media violates my community guidelines. #CelebrateSpeech
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!